Unrealized potential: UNT students could have massive influence in local elections

Unrealized potential: UNT students could have massive influence in local elections

Unrealized potential: UNT students could have massive influence in local elections
January 24
19:40 2018

Voter turnout is relatively low in local elections across the United States, especially among 18- to 29-year-olds. Denton is no exception.

UNT’s student population could heavily influence Denton politics, UNT of Political Science Chairman Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha said.

Lack of information decreases turnout

Only 4.41 percent of registered voters in Denton participated in the Constitutional Amendment and Joint Elections on Nov. 11, 2017, according to the official Denton County Elections website. The number is not much lower than Dallas County’s results. 6.52 percent of registered voters in Dallas County (1,277,851) voted on Nov. 11. 

Eshbaugh-Soha said voter turnout is low among young voters due to place of residence, information and value on the election topics.

“It’s hard for students to acquire enough information that they value to encourage them to take time to vote,” Eshbaugh-Soha said.

UNT College Democrats President Jordan Villarreal has participated in local elections as well as presidential elections while studying at UNT. He said College Democrats try to encourage others to vote.

“It’s not that they don’t care, it’s that they don’t know,” he said about the lack of students voting in local elections.

Integrative studies sophomore Darius Lewis said this is the reason why he has not registered to vote.

“I don’t trust my opinion yet because I’m not well equipped with politics,” Lewis said. “But I would register in Denton due to the fact that I’m mostly here.”

Infographic by Zaira Perez

Community connections encourage voting

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, voting rates have varied historically by race and age. Older Americans vote at higher rates than younger Americans. In 2016, voter turnout among 18- to 24-year-olds was at 46.1 percent while 70.9 percent of citizens 65 and older voted.

Eshbaugh-Soha said a connection to the community influences people the most to vote in local elections.

“These individuals [who are voting] are gonna be those who… [have] been in Denton for 10-15 years,” he said. “They want to help shape city policy.”

The issue of hydraulic fracturing in 2014 had a slightly higher voter turnout than the 2017 election with 25,473 ballots cast, according to the Denton County Elections Administration.

Compared to other city of Denton propositions, the 2014 proposition to ban hydraulic fracturing had a smaller voting gap in “for” or “against” at 58.62 percent and 41.38 percent respectively. Eshbaugh-Soha suspects voter turnout among young voters may have been higher for that election as well.

City council member John Ryan said students can have a great impact, but he does not know “which direction it would take.”

“If an issue doesn’t seem critical to you, then you’re not gonna get involved,” Ryan said.

Students are often registered with hometown addresses

Another issue that ties in with local election turnout is the city where students are registered to vote. Eshbaugh-Soha said elections at home may be considered more important to voters than elections in a city they are only in for college.

Business integrative studies senior Ana Paola Tapia does not spend a lot of time in Denton so she is not registered here.

“I would register in the city of Frisco,” Tapia said. “I spend most of my time there.”

Business computer information senior Vanessa Esparza was previously registered to vote in Tarrant County but recently switched her registration to Denton. Esparza has not voted in any Tarrant or Denton elections yet.

“I just switched it to Denton County but I’m not informed on when [elections] are happening, or where or how I do that, or on the people running to make an educated vote,” Esparza said.

Villarreal said they make sure everyone at their weekly meetings are registered to vote.

“Together with other groups we have hosted or co-hosted at least 12 voter registration events and we’ve registered over 160 students,” Villarreal said.

UNT College Republicans did not respond to requests for comment.

College students can shape culture and politics in college towns

Personal ties to an election topic back home may also keep voters from registering in another city as well. However, Villarreal said people, especially students, should register to vote in their current place of residence.

“I think it’s important that as a UNT student, we do vote in local elections,” Villarreal said. “You should make sure your home represents you.”

During the spring semester, 35,494 students were enrolled in UNT, according to UNT Data, Analytics and Institutional Research. A higher number of students participating in Denton elections could potentially sway the vote.

“[This] age group can exceed that [5 percent] exponentially, 40 to 50 percent,” Eshbaugh-Soha said.

City council member Gerard Hudspeth said it would not take a large percentage of UNT’s population to make a difference.

“It would be absolutely monumental if that age group would regularly vote,” Hudspeth said. “I think they would be amazed at the attention [they] would grab.”

Eshbaugh-Soha said political party matters as well. In local elections, such as city council, there are no political parties. Finding information may be harder because there is no party affiliation as an information shortcut.

“In other elections, you may not know much of anything, but you generally know what a Democrat is and what a Republican is,” he said.

UNT, Denton elections see low turnout from students

Not many students vote in UNT elections either. During the 2017 SGA Presidential/Vice-Presidential elections, 2,809 students voted compared to the 35,494 students enrolled in spring 2017.

“I did vote for [that],” Lewis said. “That was a situation in which I did have [knowledge].”

Turnout in midterm elections in Denton has decreased since 1988, according to the Texas Secretary of State website. 68.76 percent of registered voters in 1998 voted in midterm elections compared to 35.31 percent in 2014. As of Wednesday, the amount of voters registered in Denton has increased by 342,327 since 1988.

“It’s complicated but it comes down to the individual to decide, ‘What’s in it for me and is it worth my time?’” Eshbaugh-Soha said.

The next Texas election will be the primary election on March 6. Early voting begins on Feb. 20 and ends March 2. The last day to register to vote is Feb. 5. Potential voters can find more information on voter registration at VoteTexas.gov. Information about Denton elections can be found at VoteDenton.com.

Featured Image: A Denton resident walks into a polling location during the November 2016 elections. File Photo

About Author

Zaira Perez

Zaira Perez

News Writer

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1 Comment

  1. GuerillaRegistrar
    GuerillaRegistrar January 26, 00:00

    This is an excellent article. I have been registering voters in Denton for over 5 years, including many students: on cycle rides, in classes when invited, at various sites on UNT campus, and at nearby coffee houses, restaurants and clubs, as well as at the Square. The most important thing for students to know is that local elections take place in Spring while State and National elections take place in Fall. One can only register and vote at one residence at a time but, as long as one is registered at least 30 days in advance, one can change one’s registration to fit one’s needs. Students and young people move around more than older people, and this ends up diminishing their vote when that is absolutely not necessary. Register and VOTE in every election!

    Reply to this comment

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