Civic duty to exercise your voice

Expert insight to prepare for the ballot booth

Civic engagement is a responsibility that Moody College is committed to sharing with our neighbors on campus and throughout the community. With Election Day approaching, we wish to remind students, faculty and staff about the privilege and importance of voting, as well as some of the considerations that make the 2020 election unique.

For further election insight, we reached out to Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life Director Susan Nold and Department of Communication Studies Professor Roderick P. Hart. Nold is a licensed attorney with a career that includes positions in state and national politics. Hart is an expert in rhetoric and debate who recently authored the book “Trump and Us: What He Says and Why People Listen.”

Susan Nold

Due to our unique circumstances, what’s the greatest challenge to get-out-the-vote this year? More than prior elections, 2020 voters need to plan ahead and do their research. Voting by mail requires planning and early action, such as requesting a ballot-by-mail before the deadline, and returning it as early as possible. Voters who plan to vote in person should become familiar with their county polling locations, which may have changed because of COVID-19 and plan to vote early. Voters should bring a photo ID, wear a mask and avoid the most crowded places if possible.

Also, wear a mask. Masks are not required everywhere, but it is courteous and prudent everywhere.

Voters also need to research the candidates and know what’s on their ballot. For the first time, Texas ballots will no longer a straight-party voting option so voters will need to make a choice in each race on a ballot that is several pages long. It’s not uncommon for “down-ballot” races to be decided by a very few votes, so getting all the way through the ballot is important. Because of this, voting may take longer than in years past. Voters should know they can bring paper notes with them to vote, but they cannot use their phone once they are in the voting booth.

Are you aware of any predictions when it comes to the participation of young voters for 2020? The trends suggest young voters are motivated. CIRCLE has analyzed voter registration data and compared to 2016, rates of registration among young people in 2020 is on the rise in at least 36 states. In Texas, the registration numbers are tracking around 13% higher in 2020 compared to 2016.

Voter registration doesn’t always translate to voting but with the momentum we’re seeing, we should expect an increase in voting among young people. There is a chance that voting in the youngest age group may even outpace voting rates in other age groups. If that happens it would represent a very strong commitment to voting among our youngest voters because they face more obstacles when it comes to voting. Young people move often, may lack the proper ID, and if they’re in college, they must decide ahead of time whether to vote at a campus address or back home. Voting is no small task for a busy, stressed-out college student, so if whenever their rates of participation increase, democracy has a reason to celebrate.

For years, pundits have claimed Texas will become more politically diverse but in general, it’s maintained the status quo for the last few cycles. What do polls suggest for this election? Admittedly, I don’t pay very close attention to polls. I learned from brilliant colleagues in Moody that polls can have an unintended voter suppressive effect – making voters feel like the election is decided, before it’s even held. It was hard enough to keep up with – or make sense of polls before – but now I have what I consider to be a good reason to not pay too much attention to them.

With so much hype concerning the presidential contest, what races are being overshadowed in Texas this election cycle? U.S. Senate races across the country are important because they will determine whether Republicans keep or Democrats become the majority the U.S. Senate. In Texas, the race between Senator John Cornyn and MJ Hegar will be closely watched. In Texas, there is also a lot of interest in state legislative races, particularly in the Texas House of Representatives. Texas Republican State Representatives are working to maintain their majority position in the Texas House, and Democrats across the state are working to hold onto gains made in 2018 and pick up enough seats to become the majority party in the Texas House.

Is there anything else you’d like to add? I realize this may be asking a lot just weeks away from a very divisive election, but I really hope that Election Day is an occasion that can unify our country, even partisans. While much of the attention around the election is partisan, elections – the way they are run, and casting a vote – should not be. I hope all voters will come together to celebrate the civic act of voting.

A lot of people are working very hard at the local government level to try and make sure our elections run smoothly. I hope we do everything we can to support them, even if it means being patient and waiting – waiting in line or waiting to know the outcome. Let’s not rush to judgment if things aren’t perfectly smooth – which by the way, they won’t be. They never are. That’s part of democracy. It’s rarely perfect or smooth, but it is our chance to have a voice.

Roderick P. Hart

What do the messaging strategies appear to be for the Trump and Biden campaigns? Trump is trying to make us forget the present. That’s hard to do. In 1974, Jerry Ford tried to make us forget the past such as Watergate, and in 1996 Bill Clinton also tried to make us forget the past such as Monicagate. But forgetting the present – high unemployment and COVID-19 – is far trickier.

What were your thoughts on the first debate? The debate suggests to me that’s Trump is desperate, resorting to the kind of rhetorical violence one usually only sees in adolescent males. It also showed a loss of command, an inability to control the scene with the power of one’s ideas. Someone who is truly confident, truly in charge, doesn’t practice bravado. The debate marked the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency.

With the proven election interference by other nations seen on social media platforms in 2016, what should voters be wary about as we approach Election Day? Voters should resolve to get their news exclusively from legacy news sources including traditional newspapers and the four television networks and only consult their mobile devices when looking for “Karen” stories and the latest on Kanye West.

What do you see as the most significant hurdle to what may become calls of legitimacy in this election? I believe in institutions – the Congress, the courts, the military, the press – and I believe in them completely. These four institutions, especially, are the champions of democracy. They will save us from even the most improbable of Donald Trump’s imaginings.

In order to vote, Texas only offers mail-in ballot eligibility to those aged 65 and older or who are disabled. All other voters are expected to vote in-person. Texas offers early voting from Tuesday, Oct. 13 to Friday, Oct. 30. A current form of official photo ID is required and polling locations can be found here.

Marc Speir
Senior Content Producer