Editor’s note: this post is offered by Vincent Cacciatore, one of ATA’s summer interns.
On February 27th 2020, I did one of the most exciting things I’d do all year: vote. Even before all my future plans were cancelled and replaced with infinite Zoom calls, I knew my first time voting would be a memorable moment. Since I arrived in Austin in the Fall of 2019, people all around campus urged me to register to vote. Despite the constant barrage of activists wanting me to register, I admittedly kept putting it off. However, one day, while I was eating breakfast at the Littlefield Cafe on campus, an elderly man approached my table. He asked if I was registered to vote. I shamefully replied no, after which he passed me a clipboard. I knew at that exact moment that now was my time to register. I could not hold it off any longer.
I began filling out the government form and quickly learned how much I hate filling out government forms. Maybe it was because I was nervous that an older man was staring at me, or maybe it was because of my own inadequacy, but I kept making errors on the form. I’d skip lines that needed to be filled out, put information in the wrong boxes, and misread directions. It also didn’t help that I have poor handwriting, so I’d have to cross words out frequently to make them more legible. This college student struggled so much with that 8 ½’’ x 11‘’ piece of paper and that poor old man witnessed it all. As embarrassing as that was, I received my voter card in the mail a week later.
When February came around the political fervor in UT was in full swing. Student political organizations campaigned for their favored candidates. Signs and flyers decorated the lawns of the buildings holding voting stations. I was warned about the horrendously long lines on Super Tuesday so I decided I would do Early Voting. On Thursday February 27th, 2020 I woke up early, bought a hot chocolate at the cafe nearby, walked to the Student Facility Building where the booths were, but I did not vote. At least not immediately. I first sat down at a free bench and did my research.
I like to think that I’m an informed citizen. I make a routine effort to read the New York Times and subscribe to multiple news podcasts on my Spotify. Yet all of these were about national headlines. I knew more about a random starter-up in California than I did the local Austin races. For the next hour, I read through the Austin Chronicles’ endorsements and interviews conducted by the League of Women Voters to compile my ballot that I wrote on a sheet of notebook paper torn from the back of my math notebook.
I finally walked up to the voting booths. There was no line. All twelve stations were empty. In five minutes I was done with a small “I Voted” sticker plastered on my chest that I wore like a badge of honor. This expedient process would not be shared by my colleagues a few days later. Long lines from morning to night. Many had to skip classes that day to vote, and those who didn’t vote used the long lines as an excuse not to. When asked who they voted for in the smaller local elections, many said they just went with whose name “sounded” right, whatever that’s supposed to mean.
Voting is a civic duty that needs to be exercised wisely, so it was disheartening to see my colleagues not take the time to inform themselves.
It was even more disheartening to see colleagues who didn’t vote in the first place. This especially applied to my friends in STEM fields who seemed to believe that political issues don’t apply to them. Since the primaries, I’ve been pushing my friends to register and vote for the elections later this year. Furthermore, I encourage them to vote informed, not blindly. As demands for our local, state, and federal government intensify, I hope that every eligible adult wears that “I Voted” sticker this November.