Excitement buzzed Tuesday at the Burger Center as graduating seniors from Crockett Early College High School lined up in their bright, white robes.
As the students waited, decked out in colorful graduation cords, honors medals and bright stoles, volunteers with Travis County strolled through the lines, clipboards in hand, to sign up 18-year-olds to vote.
The program is part of an ongoing effort in the Austin-area to get more young people involved in civics and increase voter turnout in local and state elections.
Graduating senior Alex Corbett has long been ready to vote, he said.
Corbett turned 18 just days before Crockett High School’s graduation, but has already been tuned into politics, especially regarding issues of gun violence in schools.
He said it’s frustrating that he couldn’t contribute to ongoing conversations in the state and country about gun violence, a serious issue that affects grade-school students, until he actually left high school, he said.
“It feels messed up,” Corbett said. “We’re actively ignored.”
Corbett signed up to vote Tuesday so he could be part of the change, he said.
“I’m someone who’s very outspoken on social media with issues I’m passionate about,” Corbett said.
Jonathan Hernandez, who will be attending Texas State University to study construction management, had been meaning to register to vote for a while, he said Tuesday.
After taking a local government class this year, he became more interested in learning about what’s happening in politics and is looking forward to voting in next year’s presidential election, he said.
“I think it’s going to be a landmark one and a turning point for the nation,” Hernandez said.
The effort to register graduating seniors has been underway for years and is part of a broader effort to get young people more civically involved, said Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector Bruce Elfant.
In general, young people are less likely to vote.
Nationwide, only 51.4% of registered voters between 18 and 24 showed up to vote in the November 2020 presidential election, compared to 76% of voters 65 to 74 years old, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
Young people are generally politically outspoken and engaged with state and nationwide issues, Elfant said.
“Will they follow through and vote?” he asked. “That’s the big question. They have more at stake than I do.”
In 2018, the first nationwide election year after Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, Travis County did see a slight uptick in registered voters, Elfant said.
However, Elfant said he also wants to get young people interested in local elections and have them head to the polls for those decisions, too.
“We don’t pay as much attention to city council and school district and community college,” Elfant said. “They have more impact on us than the stuff at the top of the ballot.”
Travis County has made many efforts to get young people registered and to turn out during elections, Elfant said.
“The peer-to-peer messaging is so much more powerful than an old guy talking to an 18-year-old,” he said.
Students registering to vote at the Crockett High graduation considered the process an eventuality.
Alysa Anguiano, who is heading to St. Edward’s University, signed up to vote because her grandparents have always encouraged her to weigh in on election decisions and they would watch the news with her in the evenings.
Mia Chen, who will attend Texas Woman’s University in the fall, is ready to get involved.
“It’s nice to know what’s going on,” Chen said. “It’s up to us.”
Volunteers with Travis County will be at Austin school district graduations throughout the week to help students fill out their voter registration applications and sign up to vote.