The Flawn Academic Center, UT’s sole polling site, attracted the highest number of voters in the county during the first week of early voting, a vast improvement in turnout compared to previous presidential and midterm elections.
On Tuesday night, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir released a report filled with unofficial vote totals from all 25 county polling sites, showing the FAC had seen 3,423 voters compared to 3,083 for the location in second place, Randall’s off of Braker Lane and Research Boulevard.
Leading up to early voting, nonpartisan organizations on campus, including Hook The Vote and UT Votes, worked alongside partisan campus groups to reverse past trends and increase turnout among college voters.
“The more you research candidates, the more you learn about how our government functions and the more you’re exposed to the issues that affect our daily lives,” UT Votes President Zachary Foust said. “It helps you develop a certain amount of civic character as well.”
In the 2014 midterm primary election, only 1,341 voters casted their ballots early at the FAC in an election cycle featuring an open competitive gubernatorial race that was expected to increase turnout.
The last time students voted in record-high turnout was in the 2008 presidential election, when the FAC saw 7,844 voters enthused about competitive presidential primaries in both parties.
“Anytime there’s an open presidential election ... you’re going to see more people voting in the primary,” Foust said. “When people see there’s an incumbent president, they’re less likely to vote because they know the incumbent is already going to get the nomination.”
After March 1, the clerk’s office is expecting an overall turnout of 35 percent of registered voters, once election night totals are added into early voting numbers, sources at the Travis County Elections Division said.
In the past, student voters have been able to visit the University Cooperative — then a mobile polling site — in order to cast their votes. Once the need for a more permanent location became apparent, a permanent polling site was established at the FAC to accommodate growing student enthusiasm during primary elections.
“I think part of it is that the FAC is such a central voting location for all students,” said Ashley Alcantara, Hook The Vote director.
Neurobiology senior Kaitlin Valentine, who voted early at the FAC Wednesday, said she believes students are turning out at higher rates than usual because of the abundance of readily available information and candidate outreach on social media.
“People just have more information, and they’re getting other people excited to vote,” Valentine said. “If you just sit back and don’t vote, then that’s kind of the free-rider problem of everything.”
Aside from the FAC’s convenient location, Alcantara said turnout on campus is higher because of student voter enthusiasm over the competitive presidential primaries for both parties and over local state legislative seats.
“There’s been a lot of candidates that are running for state representative in [House District] 49 on West Mall everyday,” Alcantara said. “A lot of students walking through West Mall are interacting with the candidates one-on-one, which is pretty unique.”
Final early vote totals will come out Friday night after polls close at 7 p.m., and the final two days of early voting are expected to be the heaviest, an employee at the clerk’s office said.