Universities

Houston-area universities see low attendance

Harris County college polls lagged in early voter turnout, possibly signaling continued struggles to engage young voters.

Just under 3% of the 692,478 people who voted early and in person voted at one of four local college polling places, according to election data. The numbers don’t show the whole picture — they aren’t broken down by age, and registered voters aren’t restricted by location in Harris County — but political analysts say the low returns reflect how badly l Access and motivation remain a problem for many young Texans.

“Having early voting locations on campuses…it doesn’t mean all of these barriers suddenly disappear,” said Peter de Guzman, a research associate at the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at the University. ‘Tufts University.

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With an average of 6,994 people voting at each of Harris County’s 99 early voting locations, Texas Southern University, University of Houston and University of Houston-Downtown fell below the mark. Only the University of Houston-Clear Lake surpassed it.

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Early Voting on College Campuses

University of Houston: 4,813

University of Houston-Clear Lake: 7,051

University of Houston-Downtown: 4,347

University of Southern Texas: 2,284

Texas State University: 4,223

University of Texas at Austin: 15,617


Voter turnout is generally low among young voters, although ballot counters have seen gains in recent years. About 25% of people aged 18 to 29 voted in Texas midterms in 2018, triple the turnout of previous midterms. That’s even less compared to the 53% of registered Texans who voted overall in 2018, according to the Tufts University Youth Civic Engagement Research Group.

Michael O. Adams, professor of political science and public administration at Texas Southern University, warned not to read too closely what early votes mean for candidates such as Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who will have to s rely heavily on young people to become governors.

Many college students in Houston are commuters, so they might choose other locations, he said. And non-college students could vote on college campuses.

Texas Southern is also smaller than UH schools and would understandably see fewer voters, though Adams added that he hasn’t noticed much civic engagement on its campus this election. The race for county judges tends to target older voters on “bread and butter” issues, such as crime and taxes.

O’Rourke campaigns on abortion and gun policies, but Adams said he doesn’t see the gubernatorial race galvanizing students in any meaningful way.

“I know (O’Rourke) is appealing to Gen Z voters, but that kind of enthusiasm that we saw in 2020, we don’t see it,” he said.

Student interest

O’Rourke made last-minute push for voters in Texas Southern and the University of Houston on Friday — a strategy a political science professor said he would have recommended to the former Texas rep. he had been a campaign manager. But that still doesn’t mean it’ll be a hit, because young people don’t typically follow applicants who need it, said Kirby Goidel of Texas A&M University.

Some young people don’t prioritize voting even though they care about the issues, he said. For them, it often happens if they feel their vote will make a difference.

Young voters turned out in higher than usual numbers in 2018, in part because of O’Rourke’s highly visible campaign against Sen. Ted Cruz. They might have felt they had a chance to turn this race around in a way that doesn’t seem as likely this election cycle, Goidel added.

“The former voter votes no matter what, even if they don’t really feel like it,” he said. “Young voters are much more pick and choose when they think they can have an effect. They did not establish these voting patterns in every election.

The realities stand in stark contrast to the clamor by civic engagement groups to establish early voting locations at universities. Texas A&M University lost its early voting location this year, leading to an outcry among some students and a failed last-minute campaign to restore it.

“The resources are there for us, and there’s enough pressure to make those polling places available,” said Christian Medrano, a sophomore and president of the Texas Young Conservatives UH chapter. “What this shows me is that a lot of people don’t have the determination or the will to go out and vote. Frankly, it’s disappointing. »

On Friday, several students hanging out in a cafeteria just yards from the UH-Downtown voting booth said they hadn’t voted yet.

Freshman Naha Baig said she intended to vote but always forgot her ID card. Two students said they were not allowed to vote. Another student, who declined to be named, said he didn’t care about voting or elections.

One student said he voted – and felt personally responsible for doing so.

Barriers to Voting

For people who have easier access to ballot boxes at their university, some issues remain, said de Guzman of Tufts.

County-wide messaging is difficult when polling locations often have different hours. And Texas’ lack of same-day voter registration and drop-off locations for mail-in ballots are possible obstacles for students, he said.

Surveys also show that campaigns are reaching out to younger voters far less than other demographics, de Guzman said.

“Many young people don’t have the same opportunity to vote because communities and institutions don’t prepare them,” he said.

Adams said voter ID rules can deter students because they can’t use their student ID to vote. Some also don’t know how to vote, as they usually have addresses in their home town and at school.

“The state of Texas has generally not made it easy and accessible to register and vote,” he said.

Beka Stowell, a freshman and campus ambassador for the civic engagement group Texas Rising, said she heard from many students who felt confused about where to vote or if they could vote in Harris County. Many students find it difficult to analyze information that comes to them from multiple places, she said.

“There’s a lot of disconnect with information,” Stowell said.

across the state

Most college students still don’t have the ability to vote on campus. A recent Texas Tribune analysis found that 50% of the state’s 36 public universities have an on-campus early voting location this year.

In Houston, Rice University, Houston Christian University and the University of St. Thomas are among the private schools that do not have on-campus polling places. In other counties, students at Texas A&M University and Sam Houston State University must also vote early off campus.

Prairie View A&M University students also vote off-campus for most early votes — an issue that prompted students to file a federal lawsuit against Waller County in 2018 — but had three days of early voting this week.

Elsewhere in Texas, UT-Austin had more success, with 15,617 people voting early in two on-campus locations. The Texas State University location registered 4,223 voters, according to Hays County data.

It’s possible more young voters will show up on Election Day, Goidel said.

At UH-Downtown, transfer student Yvette Leija said she plans to vote then — she just needs to find the location first.

“I couldn’t,” she said. “I wanted to know where to go.”