Ever since I voted for the first time in 2018, my rights to do so have been under fire.
Students like myself have been continuously targeted by our elected representatives, especially in states like Texas, where I have lived for the last 8 years. This includes eliminating temporary polling locations, restrictions to voting by mail, and most recently, the proposing to eliminate polling on campus altogether. These extremist, anti-voter actors are undermining the integrity of our democracy by targeting young voters simply because of their perceived political affiliations.
Recently, longtime Republican legal strategist Cleta Mitchell was recorded asking her fellow party members to make it more difficult for college students to vote in the 2024 election. Mitchell thinks that putting polling locations on college campuses will make voting too easy, saying, “they just have to roll out of bed, vote, and go back to bed.”
As a young Texan voter, I know that voting has never been easy.
2020 was still a record breaking year for young people in Texas, attributed to drive through voting, 24 hour polling locations, and other efforts statewide. But still, that year, online registration was not available and the pandemic was not considered a valid reason to vote absentee. As a result, young people in Texas voted at a rate of 41 percent, nearly 15 percentage points less than their counterparts in the region.
As students became more politically active, the Texas legislature moved to suppress our voices. By the next major election in 2022, these voting options were stripped away. That year, only 50% of the 39 public universities and 20% of the 9 HBCUs had on-campus early voting.
The lack of accessible polling locations, in addition to strict voter ID laws and registration and mail-in-ballot restrictions have made it harder for young people in Texas, and across the country, to participate in our democracy. That should concern everyone – across all backgrounds and political affiliations.
My elected officials posed these restrictions as a means of ‘making our elections safer,’ but according to our own Secretary of State, there is “no evidence that any voting or voter registration systems in Texas were compromised before the 2016 Election or in any subsequent elections.”
As a Democracy Fellow with Campus Vote Project throughout the 2022 election cycle, it was disheartening to see my fellow students struggle to navigate the convoluted registration process. It can be intimidating and confusing to vote for the first time, and facing so many barriers can often dissuade young voters from participating in our democracy.
We know that easier access to voting increases voter turnout. In 2020, in southern states like Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida where online voter registration and vote by mail opportunities make voting more accessible, voter turnout rates for young people were around 55 percent.
Protecting voting rights for young people is not a partisan issue. The fight for fair and equal access to voting is far from over. With new bills and laws being created to suppress our vote, it’s essential that we know our rights and hold our representatives accountable at the polls.
By 2028, Gen Z and Millennials will be the majority of eligible voters. My generation has the power to change our country for the better, and usher in an era in which all voters, including college students and other young people have unburdened access to the ballot. We’ve proven our commitment to this fight, breaking turnout records in the past two election cycles.
As the 2024 elections loom, I’m hopeful we’ll break records again.
Reilley Flood is a recent graduate of the University of North Texas. She is a current Communications intern and former Democracy Fellow with Fair Elections Center’s Campus Vote Project.