What is TX Votes, and how long has it been around?
TX Votes, formerly known as UT Votes, has been a part of the programming side of the Annette Strauss Institute as a sponsored student organization since 2005. Our goals are to register UT students to vote or update their address, as well as educate the UT student community on ballot issues and candidates. We are strictly nonpartisan – we do not take issue positions or endorse candidates. Instead, we work to create an open space for students to come and share their opinions without fear of judgment. We promote civil discussion and work hard to represent all viewpoints at our events.
Why be nonpartisan?
Sometimes in today’s world, it can feel like it’s “us versus them,” and to be political means picking a team without truly knowing the issues. Because we do voter registration, we do not want to pressure students to feel they need to “pick a side.” With TX Votes, we encourage students to learn about the issues that are most important to them with an open mind, or at least with a civil tongue. It can be easy to lose oneself in a heated argument, but we see merit in being able to shake an opponent’s hand and walk away with respect for one another.
I am partisan, so how could I get involved with a nonpartisan organization?
We welcome all political backgrounds and viewpoints at TX Votes! Although as a collective group we do not take stances political issues or candidates, we invite the open debate of ideas in a respectful manner. We also believe we are a unique outlet for partisan students. As a smaller organization, we have more officer positions available for students looking to add leadership experience to their resume. We are also flexible because of our size – if a motivated student sees a community need the organization could fill, we encourage members to create new positions or committees. In addition, having a nonpartisan organization on one's resume demonstrates to potential employers you see value in speaking to all kinds of people and can communicate political ideas in a respectful manner – even when engaging others who do not share the same views.
What activities or events does TX Votes do? Have have you done in the past?
We engage in many different kinds of activities. We hold organization meetings every other week on campus where we come together to plan larger events, talk about issues or elections, stream a Harvard Institute of Politics live forum, and socialize with one another. Every semester we try to hold a deputization meeting so all our members and interested students can get trained to register voters in Travis County. Sometimes our meetings are more informal where we meet at a restaurant off campus to have coffee or play Geeks Who Drink trivia.
We also engage in campus-wide activities that encourages voter registration and education. We table on the West Mall to register students to vote or update their voting address, and we also help organize and participate in Hook the Vote with UT Student Government (a series of nonpartisan campus activities and a midnight rally to register voters). We host and cohost campus debates between the University Democrats and College Republicans. During the early voting period of the fall 2014 midterm elections, we hosted “Parties for the People: Undecided Voter Fair,” where we passed out voter guides and organized multiple partisan organizations to come together and provide educational materials on candidates and positions so UT students could feel confident in making informed voting decisions. We’ve also hosted debate watch and election results viewing parties, and in the past have welcomed political guests to speak on issues important to university students.
TX Votes members also have access to Annette Strauss events – our members receive priority volunteer spots for events like the Texas Tribune Festival and Texas Conference on Civic Life, and are privy to New Politics Forum event discounts.
Why work so hard to register students if Texas is a deep red state? What do you think of those trying to turn Texas blue?
Because we are strictly nonpartisan, we feel it’s important to represent all sides in order to have a well-rounded understanding of politics and allow students to make their own decisions on their electoral choices. Regardless of political position, we believe in a classical democratic model – in that democracy works best with more people involved. We believe our leaders should reflect the people. If more people including students get involved and vote and Texas still remains red, that’s okay – it’s a more accurate representation of Texans.
Don’t all students and young people vote Democrat?
No – students come from all across the country and have difference life experiences and different political views. It would be inaccurate to label a large and diverse population with one voting viewpoint. Citizens are always changing and growing. Students are engaged in civic life at different levels, and we are at this prestigious university to get a world-class education - Civic participation is part of that experience and that responsibility. Our voices should be heard equally, not regarded as a single mass voting bloc.
What do you say to students who say their vote doesn’t matter?
Individually, a single person can feel that their one vote won’t make a difference. But if hundreds of thousands of Americans feel that way, that’s hundreds of thousands of voices and votes that don’t get counted. Elections have been won and lost on the smallest of margins, and some local elections in the past have had only one person decide the winner. Votes do matter, and establishing the habit of voting at a young age increases civic participation throughout adulthood.