Texas Secretary of State Kicks Off Voter Education Campaign at UT

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Students in H.W. Brands’ American history class got a visit this morning from Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos, BA ’74, who kicked off the state’s voter education campaign with a lecture encouraging them to head to the polls. Cascos also covered the basics of how to register to vote, which forms of identification are acceptable at the polls, and how he got his start in public service. Before taking up his post as secretary of state, Cascos served as Cameron County judge, as a member of the Texas Public Safety Commission, and as a Cameron County commissioner. He spoke with the Alcalde about why he chose to start his campaign on the Forty Acres.

Why is this type of campaign important to you?

I’m the 110th secretary of state, and part of the responsibility that I have is I’m the state’s chief election officer, among other things. I believe that if one goes out and speaks, educates, and registers, that translates into better voter participation.

And why reach out to college students specifically?

Many of them are first-time voters, and they are the younger generation of our leadership. We have to be able to pass a well-lit torch to them and help them develop that voting ethic—and it is an ethic. Even if you don’t vote for anybody, at least go up to the polls and cast that ballot.

How do you respond to young people who feel disenchanted and cynical about politics and voting?

First of all, from my perspective, you don’t disagree with them. They’re conveying that message because that’s what they believe, and if I say, ‘You’re wrong,’ I’m going to turn them off right off the bat. I say, ‘That’s perfectly understandable, and I see what you’re getting at’—but I also share my personal experience.

In 2010, I won by 69 votes out of 42,000 that were cast in Cameron County for district judge. So I know that every vote is important. I tell them that I understand their cynicism, but it’s not going to change if you don’t participate. That’s a guarantee. You’ve got to make a change, and you do it by reaching out to one voter and one campus at a time.

Do you remember the first time you voted?

Yes, it was a gubernatorial race—Paul Edwards was running as a Republican at the time and he lost. I remember that. I’ve missed one election in the last 25-odd years and I felt guilty when I missed it. It was a school board race.

I tried to instill that voting ethic into my daughters growing up, and to this day they are adamant voters. They go out and vote. And it’s because they saw their parents voting and putting yard signs in the front yard. I don’t know if I can relate to an 18-year-old, but we’re doing the best that we can.

Tell me a little about your time at UT. Were you involved in student government?

I was too busy trying to pass my classes. I came from a small town—this was in 1971, and at that time, the population of Brownsville was around 57,000. I remember sitting at my first football game and being in awe of the stadium and the crowd. The announcer said, ‘Today’s attendance is 72,000!’ and I thought, you know, all of Brownsville fits in this stadium. That was amazing to me.

I still have nightmares of trying to get from what is now the School of Business to Burdine Hall in the span of 10 minutes [laughs].

I didn’t realize how diverse this university was. I remember seeing the plaza [on the West Mall] where everybody would set up booths for student organizations, every possible topic you could think of. I thought that was pretty cool. The experience for me was basically learning that there is more to life than Brownsville, Texas. It gave me the opportunity to be more tolerant of thoughts and ideas that are different than my own.

Photo by Anna Donlan

 

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