Local election voter turnout has hit an all-time low in the U.S., and Lubbock is no exception. But one demographic consistently does not show at the polls.
According to the Lubbock County Elections Office, about 16 percent of registered voters in Lubbock County voted in the 2016 municipal elections. District 1, which includes the North and South Overton areas, where many Texas Tech University students live, had the lowest voter turnout in the city, with 1,618 ballots cast.
Cole Adams, campaign manager for District 1 city council candidate and Texas Tech student Tristan Ramirez, estimates that about 1,000 Texas Tech students are registered to vote in Lubbock County.
With over 33,000 students at Texas Tech, District 19 Congressional Candidate and current Lubbock Mayor Glen Robertson, R-Texas, said students do not realize the power they could have in local elections.
“I was elected to be the mayor of the 85th largest city of the United States by 23,000 people,” Robertson said in a phone interview. “Tech has an enrollment today of 33,000. If they wanted to, if they could get motivated, Tech students alone could determine every election in the city of Lubbock.”
Robertson said millennial-age voters are not the problem; the school system is. In his opinion, civic government is not taught well enough in schools, leaving first-time voters with little knowledge on what local elections can mean. He suggests revamping grade school government classes to include more information about city, county, regional and state processes and responsibilities.
Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, District 19 congressional candidate, agreed that young voters need to be encouraged to vote in all elections. He thinks the next generation of younger politicians could help increase young voter turnout.
“I think we have a more positive vision for the future; I think we present more positively,” Arrington said. “I think they want to hear from somebody that they can relate to more.”
Both of these candidates may be on to something. According to research conducted by The Knight Foundation, there are five big reasons why millennials are not voting in local elections: lack of media coverage of local issues and candidates compared to national ones, poor understanding of local government, skepticism of all politicians, lack of commitment to their current city and frustration with the voting process.
Megan McMillan, president of the Texas Tech College Republicans, said the group frequently holds voter registration drives, encouraging Texas Tech students to register in Lubbock County. Many students say they are registered to vote in their hometowns and do not see the point in changing.
“They don’t think it’s permanent,” McMillan said in a phone interview. “I think it’s kind of a hassle for them, in a way. It’s just easier for them to be registered at home because that’s more permanent.”
Beyond being able to vote in local elections, McMillan said being registered to vote in the city where you go to school is helpful for national elections as well.
During the Texas presidential primary in March, hundreds of students cast provisional ballots to vote for their chosen presidential candidate. Provisional ballots are used in many cases, but most often because people are trying to vote in a city where they are not registered. These ballots have to be mailed to the students’ registered county, slowing down the counting process. In many cases, provisional ballots are not counted.
Even students registered to vote in Lubbock County may face obstacles when trying to vote in the congressional run-off election on May 24. According to Adams, former president of the Texas Tech Student Democrats, registered Democrats will not be able to vote in the run-off due to their political affiliation. Registered Democrats were also unable to vote in the initial congressional election on March 1 because the candidates were Republican.
“Half of the students that voted in March will be unable to vote in the runoff, too, because they chose to vote in the Democratic primary,” Adams wrote in a Facebook comment. “Roughly 20 percent (average Democratic vote) of the voting populace in District 19 will have no say over who their next congressman will be.”
Adams wrote that not enough is done to educate students on the electoral process. He believes Texas Tech should do more to educate young voters.
To mobilize the youth vote, the Knight Foundation suggests providing more information about local elections, instilling a sense of community in new residents, creating social norms for voting, connecting cultural and civic participation and reframing the value of voting could increase young voter turnout.