Flawn Academic Center

A steady stream of students could be seen inside the Flawn Academic Center throughout the week preparing to cast their ballots during the first days of early voting for the 2012 presidential elections.

At the end of the fourth day of early voting, 3,849 votes had been cast at the FAC. Billy Calve, director of Student Government’s Hook the Vote campaign, said although the energy and enthusiasm of 2008 is difficult to replicate, student engagement remains high on campus.

Some statistics show that being civically engaged is less common among young people. In 2008, 49 percent of eligible 18 to 24-year-olds reported voting compared to an overall turnout rate of 64 percent, according to a report by the U.S. Census Bureau. This increase was compared to a 47 percent voter turnout in 18 to 24-year-olds in 2004, when there was also a 64 percent turnout rate among all citizens of voting age.

A recent study by the Pew Research Center offers a bleaker outlook for 2012. According to the study, the number of citizens younger than 30-years-old that feel engaged in the election is down this year to 18 percent from 35 percent in 2008.

Regina Lawrence, director of the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life, said one reason for lower youth engagement and turnout relative to older adults is that campaigns simply don’t focus on young people as much as older voters.

“With young voters there is often a chicken and egg problem,” Lawrence said. “Campaigns don’t talk to them because they don’t believe they will turn out in big numbers. If they don’t talk to young people, it’s less likely they will turn out.”

Students voting at the FAC Wednesday afternoon weighed in with their perspectives on young people’s engagement in this year’s election.

Public health senior Candace Whaley said she believes young people are more engaged because this election’s issues are going to directly impact them in terms of education, student loans and finding employment after graduation.

“I feel like a lot of people in our age group are paying a lot more attention, because our vote does count and it can change how we’re currently living,” Whaley said.

Likewise, business sophomore Carly Colville, who is a first-time voter, said merely being eligible to vote helps to engage young people.

“I think the ability to walk in there and cast a vote definitely affects people’s perception and interest,” Colville said.

Engaged students like Whaley and Colville may serve to change statistics that say young people aren’t politically interested.

“I’m paying attention,” Colville said. “I’m definitely not ignoring it.”

Printed on Friday, October 26, 2012 as: Early voting draws youth, campus engagement high

Study bubble

Senior philosophy major Aaron Dutton studies Spanish in the Flawn Academic Center Sunday afternoon. Dutton is taking Spanish online but says he wishes he had a teacher to help him learn the language.

Jan Ramesh, a junior in bio chemistry and finance, receives a massage from Jeff Timmons during the Wellness Fest outside the FAC Wednesday afternoon. Wellness Fest brings representatives from University and Austin-area groups together in order to promote student well-being.

Photo Credit: Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan Staff

Students received free health advice ranging from vision screening and safe sex kits, to nutrition information and free relaxation massages Wednesday at the Flawn Academic Center.

Susan Hochman, University Health Services interim assistant manager, said the 35th annual Wellfest was a fun way for UHS to promote health and well-being on campus. Approximately 37 campus and community organizations participated in the event, which lasted from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m.

“We want students to be healthy and for them to know that there are a ton of resources available in order to stay healthy,” Hochman said. “In order for students to be really successful, they need to practice good health. If they are not sleeping and eating healthily then they are not going to perform well academically.”

Center for Students in Recovery representative Austin Berry was at the event to promote the group’s work supporting addiction recovery.

“Hopefully I can reach out to somebody who either knows somebody battling a drug addiction, or even if that person has an addiction, and encourage them to get help,” he said. “We provide a safe place to go on Tuesdays, have a great network of friends, and just have a great time being sober.”

Student Health Advisory Committee senior Stephanie Bradley invited students to wash away their stress by writing down stressful thoughts on a piece of paper and watch it disappear with a “magic wand” to dissolve each stressful thought in a bowl of water.

“Having a healthy way to reduce stress, rather than drugs or alcohol, is so important for students during your college years, ” Bradley said. “It can be one of the most stressful times in your life, especially if you’ve just transferred in as a freshman or are applying to graduate school.”

Passers-by were drawn in by the island sounds of the UT Steel Pan Ensemble, performing calypso interpretations of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” and The Naked and Famous’s “Young Blood”.

Ensemble director David Saad said all students needed a creative outlet, such as music, as a way to reduce stress.

“The music we play is so hard to listen to without a smile on your face, just because it makes you think of the Caribbean,” Saad said. “It’s just so much fun, and being fun is an essential part of being healthy.”

More than half of the students who attempted to vote at the Flawn Academic Center were not aware that on Election Day, ballots can only be cast at the precinct in which voters live.

Out of the more than 2,000 voters who showed up at the FAC to cast their ballots on Tuesday, only 853 were actually allowed to vote. Precinct 148, the FAC location, is restricted to those who live on campus and surrounding areas. By 2 p.m., more than 1,200 people were turned away, said voting judge John McEvoy.

“Sorry, but you have to go to your own precinct to cast your ballot,” McEvoy repeatedly told voters. “You could have gone anywhere during early voting, folks. That’s one more reason to get out before Election Day.”

The biggest problem at the polls is voters who are unaware of the precinct restrictions, he said, leaving him and fellow judges to act as bearers of bad news.

“Most of them have no idea which precinct they fall under,” he said. “So when they show up, I get to tell them they can’t vote here after they’ve waited in line for 30 minutes.”

McEvoy said much of students’ confusion stems from the fact that they either saw crowds voting early at the FAC or voted there during the 2008 elections.

“A solution would be to do early voting some place else, so people will actually have to look for their precinct, instead of assuming it’s here,” he said. “But that would cause an inconvenience, so we’re kind of stuck.”

Undeclared freshman Paige Brown said she hoped to vote for the first time but was turned away, putting a damper on her first voting experience.

“I was pretty frustrated. I thought you could just show up, vote and go,” she said. “People were annoyed because you hear ‘You can go vote at the FAC,’ but that wasn’t the case for everyone.”

Brown, who lives in the Town Lake apartments off Riverside, did not vote this year because she had no means of getting to her correct precinct, she said.

Early voting eliminates the problem of precinct confusion because voters can cast their ballot at any polling place in the county, said Mary Fero, spokeswoman for the Travis County Clerk’s Office.

Early voting totals for 2010 indicate a marginal increase over 2006 in overall voter turnout in Travis County, she said. About 22 percent of registered voters cast their ballot during early voting, which ran from Oct. 21 to Oct. 29, according to county voting records.

“We also have mobile voting, where we change early voting locations so more people can access different poll sites and chose the one that’s most convenient,” she said.