As the last day to register to vote in Texas in the fall election approaches, the Center of Civic Leadership is working on increasing voter engagement. According to assistant director for programs and partnerships Morgan Kinney, the CCL’s focus is not only on encouraging students to vote themselves, but also to mobilize other students and citizens in the greater Houston area by the Oct. 11 deadline.
“Our goal with the CCL voter engagement efforts is to compile election involvement opportunities so that students can more easily get involved.” Kinney said.
Together with the American Association of University Women, the CCL co-hosted the Voter Deputy Registrar training last weekend, which equipped 47 students, faculty, staff and community members to become Harris County deputy registrars, who can then help others register for voting. The two groups are also partnering to host the National Voter Registration Day in the near future.
Morgan said the CCL also believes that Rice students can have a broader impact through working with local organizations. She said that currently, residents of Texas are not fully represented in elections.
“From my perspective, effective voting would mean that our votes accurately represent the views of our entire population,” Kinney said. “Currently, in Texas, this is not necessarily the case.”
According to Kinney, research shows that in Texas, people of minority races and ethnicities are voting at rates drastically lower than their white neighbors; it is predicted that if the growing minority populations in Texas were to vote as frequently as the Anglo populations, Texas would become a swing state.
“This indicates many of our neighbors’ voices are not necessarily being heard in our local and national elections,” Kinney said.
In an effort to encourage voting in the wider community, the CCL is bringing in Volunteers with Neighborhood Centers, an organization that aims to canvas low-voting neighborhoods and fellow Houstonians to vote. The CCL is also offering opportunities to volunteer with Mi Familia Vota and participate in election day poll research with political science professor Robert Stein. In conjunction with the political science department, the CCL will host watch parties for both the third presidential debate and the election itself with the political science department.
AAUW, which is collaborating with the CCL in the voter registration efforts, is a national organization with a long history, but has only recently started a chapter at Rice. Its founder Neethi Nayak said that the most effective way to mobilize students is to make them know that their decision will affect their lives, that the person in the office will play a role in how their country is perceived and what happens to them daily.
“The country’s elected leadership is a reflection of the values of voters, so going out to the polls is one way to express that,” Nayak, a Martel College senior, said. “If you are able to vote, and don’t, any criticism you have of policy can’t be accounted for because an opinion wasn’t voiced on the ballot. Rice students are definitely becoming more engaged with this election and I hope that we’ll see a great turnout during early voting and on election day.”
Rice Democrats officers have been trained to become voter registrars for Harris County and are planning to start a month of voter registration drives in the Rice Memorial Center, according to president David Cirillo. He said this presidential race is special because the guiding principle of America is at stake.
“While every election is intrinsically important, this presidential race is inherently different,“ Cirillo said. “So while many now assume Hillary [Clinton] will win, I implore activity and voting consciousness now through November; there are two different visions of America at risk, one of inclusivity and one of exclusive, nativist hatred.”
Rice College Republicans president Jake Blumencranz said students should vote to have their voices heard in all levels of government, especially given the presidential election and Houston’s historically limited voter participation.
“I think that due to the fact that it is a presidential election year as well as the fact that Houston has very low turn outs for elections it is more important than ever to vote for who you believe will best advocate for you and your values, especially down ballot,” Blumencranz said.
Despite their busy schedules, Kinney said she hopes Rice students will find some way to engage in the coming months. She said any students who want more specific information on voter registration should visit the CCL website.