When elections roll around, there are a lot of issues vying for your attention. Television commercial breaks and editorial pages are an endless cacophony of opinions about why you should care and what you should care about. It can get annoying, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. At the risk of adding to this clutter, I am going to ask you to care and give you another idea for something to care about.
According to the Texas Tribune, 15.5 percent of registered voters—which is only 11.1 percent of voting-age Texans—voted in the May primaries. That means a little over 10 percent of the eligible population made 100 percent of our decisions for us. The turnout for the ever-important runoffs may be even lower.
My first plea is that you vote. Voting is our most basic civic duty, and it is the most direct way we can impact government. And it’s not just November that matters. Even if partisanship is not your cup of tea, primaries and runoffs still deserve our attention. These elections decide the list of candidates from whom we get to choose when we go to the polls in November. In many races, primaries are the only elections that matter.
Why should this be important to alumni? Elected officials in Texas, especially the state legislature, governor, and lieutenant governor, have a profound influence over The University of Texas at Austin. They determine everything from our funding and leadership to admissions and safety policies. If you care about The University of Texas, you should care about the outcome of these elections. Not only can one elected official make a huge difference to life on campus, but the government in Texas can impact the trajectory and goals of our University.
So here is a second plea: think about The University of Texas when you vote. Along with taxes, immigration, and all the other political issues that unite or divide us, consider the impact that your vote, and all the candidates for whom you are voting, could have on the University and its future. That impact is likely to be huge and deserves our consideration. This issue does not have distinct partisan lines—champions of higher education are found on both sides of the aisle.
Lately, higher education has been getting more attention than normal. But a lot of this attention has been harsh criticism, rather than creative thinking about what higher education needs to be and how to get us there. Our elected officials should be joining in this conversation because many of the decisions that will have to be made about the University fall to them.
Runoff election day for both parties is July 31. Early voting started yesterday, July 23, and runs until July 27. And mark your calendars now for Nov. 6, the date of the 2012 general election. Think about UT when you go to the polls; future generations of Longhorns depend on it.
Natalie Butler, BA, BS ’12, Life Member, is a former UT student government president.
Photo courtesy Flickr user seanmcmenemy.