UT Votes, Civic Engagement Alliance grow in election season

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UT Votes is an organization focused on the importance of college students voting in elections held in Austin.
Photo Credit: Mary Pistorius | Daily Texan Staff

While a handful of students register their classmates to vote, the rest of their group, with red and blue-stained hands, tie dye white T-shirts that say UT Votes.

Sponsored by the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life, UT Votes helps students register to vote. Last year, UT Votes created an initiative called the Civic Engagement Alliance to recruit representatives from various student organizations. Each representative is deputized before retuning to their organization to register its members to vote. The alliance includes 17 organizations, such as ResLife and Longhorn Singers, which have registered a total of 4,376 people to vote. This year, their goal is to register 10,000 new voters.

Kassie Barroquillo, program coordinator for UT Votes, said she thought it was important to bring non-partisan groups together and encourage them to talk about politics.

“A lot of the decisions are made by the people,” Barraquillo said. “Who we vote for is going to impact us for a very long time.”

In 2015, UT Votes had six members. Now they have 56. The group aims to further increase their numbers at Party on the Plaza on Wednesday.

Philosophy sophomore Benjamin Martinez is the president of UT Votes and joined the group last year. He said when he attended his first meeting, the club’s small number of members almost deterred him from joining. But their commitment to the nationwide voting issue made him stay. 

“I heard all the ideas that [the members] were talking about, and I saw a lot of potential in the club,” Martinez said. 

In high school, Martinez was struck by the low voter turnout for people in his age group and wanted to change that. Today, he works to increase the number of student voters and awareness of candidates by working with Hook the Vote, a student government organization that shares UT Vote’s purpose. They also plan to participate in the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, where universities compete to be recognized for improving civic engagement on their campuses.

“It’s no good [to vote] if you’re not informed about the candidates,” Martinez said. “I want to create an easy resource for students to learn about candidates — and not just national candidates, but local candidates especially.”

Despite not being eligible to vote, some students are still interested in helping out.

Nakhim Seng, an international relations and global studies freshman, is from Cambodia and cannot vote in the United States. Seng has worked for the Hillary Clinton campaign and said that, as a lover of politics, UT Votes was the perfect addition to his schedule. 

“It’s a way of making a difference wherever I can,” Seng said. “We’re choosing the people that make the decisions for you. People complain that they don’t choose the leaders, and you really do. That’s how democracy works.”

Journalism freshman and UT Votes member Jacqueline Briddell plans to become a deputy volunteer registrar in order to officially register voters in Texas. Briddell said she wants to get more involved with voting and politics and help others do the same. 

“It’s not who you vote for necessarily, but it’s that you go out and vote,” Briddell said. “And that everyone is able to be a part of the big picture.”