On Sept. 19, Student Government held their annual National Voter Registration Day event on campus to educate college students about the democratic process, registering 210 Comets to vote with visits from local representatives.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 1 in 4 eligible citizens are not registered to vote. With a decline in youth participation in local elections, college aged students could be a defining player in future elections; the jump from 44% of eligible voters ages 18-29 showing up for the election in 2016 to 55% in 2020 ultimately represented 17% of the total share of votes. Every year at UTD, SG partners with other civic organizations on campus, such as Texas Rising, to educate students on the importance of registering to vote and guiding them through the process. At the Plinth, civic organizations set up booths with registration materials for unregistered students to fill out. This year, local officials such as Mayor Bob Dubey and Rep. Mihaela Plesa attended to educate students on the impact they can make.
National Voter Registration Day is a nonpartisan civic holiday that educates citizens about deadlines and breaks through the largest existing barriers to registration, namely, busy schedules and lack of interest. The day is an opportunity for grassroots organizations like Texas Rising to find unregistered but eligible voters and guide them through what can often be a complicated, frustrating process. Natasha Kokkodil, political science junior and co-president of voter registration organization Texas Rising, helped organize one of the booths that registered students at the event.
“The youth demographic is one of the most salient demographics when it comes to voting,” Kokkodil said. “We turn the tides every primary, every midterm, every local election. And a lot of the times the youth demographic does not get involved, not because they don’t want to or because they have voter apathy, but because they just genuinely don’t know where to start … National Voter Registration Day is the day where all of the Voter Reg orgs, like us, culminate together to vote, get people out there and engaged in their civic duty. So, this day is very, very meaningful for all of us.”
Between classes, extracurriculars and exams, it can be hard for students to go home to vote if they live on campus. Through this event, students can register as new voters as well as update their voting address to their college town, where they will likely be during voting season. The event also serves as a reminder for students who may have forgotten to register or who live far from home to still fulfill their civic duty of voting. Neuroscience junior Omolere Aliu is just one of the over 200 Comets who registered to vote in Collin County that day.
“I’m very happy to have been involved,” Aliu said. “It felt nice to, one, I guess get registered to vote by students. It was always the kind of thing that reeled me into it. I think being registered to vote by other students, not just faculty … feels a bit more sincere, just students to students. Having our voice heard [is important] because, as much as I would love to say that the democratic system works, it doesn’t work the way it should.”
Isabella Spartz, finance and economics senior and SG Legislative Affairs Chair, was just one of the many SG senators working to organize and carry out this voting event of campus. Since there is usually a smaller turnout for municipal elections, getting students to not only register, but to understand the importance of the smaller scale elections is crucial in determining who may represent the city. It becomes not just about a singular election cycle or position, but instead about what tangible change can be done at a local level.
“We have a diaspora of students that just don’t think it’s important for them to vote or don’t think their voices are heard, which is very wrong,” Spartz said. “And you know, UTD can flip a whole city council seat with the amount of students that we have. So, if we get students to register out now and make it fun, we’ll probably get to change their minds and show them … this is important, and all the stuff that happens in government and politics affects us.”
Since students are at the center of this project, reaching out to untapped markets of eligible voters is also important.
“One of the biggest things I would say is like try to try to reach out to more [people], not just the civic organizations, but also reach out to more of the multicultural organizations,” Aliu said. “So that could be either multicultural Greek life or that could be different clubs like ASU, African Student Union, or BSA, Black Student Association … Just reaching out to these clubs and making sure not only are they pushing to those who are already in politics, but also pushing to those who aren’t and who just kind of be like, ‘hey, I’ve never known that this existed.’”
Dubey also appeared on Sept. 19 to speak to students about the importance of exercising civic duties. Elected as Mayor in May of this year, Dubey has been a member of the Richardson community for over 50 years and has served on City Council since 2017. In addition to teaching in the Richardson Independent School District, he has also served on the boards of the Charter Review Commission and Parks and Recreation Commission.
“I think voting is an amazing opportunity and right and a privilege that not everybody in the world has … I truly believe that local government is the best way for anyone to be able to control their day-to-day life because … all decisions made in our city impact you when you live here every single day,” Dubey said. “State and national elections are one thing, but if you really get involved and you know what’s happening in your city, you have a voice.”
With around 100 students registered at last year’s National Voter Registration Day and the number doubling to 210 this year, Spartz said that SG is satisfied with turnout and plans to continue the collaboration.
“We see so many students that aren’t registered, and we get to register them, and that’s one extra voice that matters,” Spartz said.
If you were unable to visit the SG or Texas Rising booths during National Voter Registration Day and are eligible to vote, you still have until November 7, 2023 to check your eligibility and register to make your voice heard.
“You have an opportunity when you get involved in local government for your voice to truly be heard,” Dubey said. “And that’s what I hope everyone understands. That your voice does matter. Your vote does matter.”