Texas Secretary of State Carlos H. Cascos was on campus Oct. 6 to speak with students about the importance of voting. The Secretary held an open forum with young voters where he asked them why some of them don’t vote and offered solutions to their concerns.
Secretary Cascos began by sharing a story of how voter turnout has impacted his own political career. In 2010, Cascos was running for re-election as County Judge in Cameron County.
“This is when it gets to where every vote is important. I get a call from the elections administrator. He said, ‘Congratulations, you won by 87 votes.’ At 1:00 in the morning, I get another call. He said, ‘We’ve found a box [of ballots]. You lost by 5 votes,” Cascos said.
It turned out that the box had already been counted. The election went to a recount and Cascos ended up winning the election by 69 votes. However, that election was an eye-opening moment.
“Right then and there, there was an awakening that every vote does count. Every vote is important,” he said.
Cascos also urged students not to simply fall under the umbrella of a certain political party. Instead, he challenged students to only vote for candidates they are familiar with and believe in.
“There’s such a thing called the straight-ticket vote. Whether you’re a democrat or republican, I disagree with it,” Cascos said. “Neither side of the aisle has a monopoly on good government. They both have good ideas and not so good ideas.”
The secretary asked students who don’t vote to reveal the reason why. Sophomore political science major Sam Casey said he hasn’t voted because he doesn’t feel that politicians have done a good enough job to earn his vote.
“It’s like I’m the boss and you’re the interviewee. I’m not going to go search for you and try and find you for the job, you need to apply for the job. As a voter you need to come earn my vote. So I haven’t voted because I haven’t felt compelled to vote for someone,” Casey said.
Cascos discussed several reasons why people would decide not to vote – including a lack of knowledge about candidates and not having a favorable candidate to vote for – but said that in the end, avoiding the polls restricts the control that citizens have.
“Let me recommend something. Go and vote anyway and vote a blank ballot. It counts as a number. State and federal officials look at those numbers.
If there’s 10,000 blanks, I think that sends out a much louder signal,” Cascos said. “When you put in a blank ballot, that counts. You’re sending out a signal that you’re not happy.”
Professor Dr. Janet Adamski of the history and political science department said the idea of turning in a blank ballot is a unique way for voters to voice their frustrations.
“That’s a message that I haven’t heard a lot of people say before. I think that’s a really good way to get your voice heard and to make a complaint if you don’t like what’s happening. If you don’t participate, it’s a little harder to complain,” Adamski said.
Those who do decide to vote can find themselves overwhelmed by the amount of information thrown at them about candidates.
Cascos said that while political polls can be useful, voters should still make their own decisions.
“Voters need to realize that a poll is just a snapshot of one thing or one week. That’s why they’re so volatile. They’re going to continue changing between now March and November of 2016,” he said. “So voters can use them as a guide or a tool, but at the end of the day they really have to make their own assessments and not rely totally on polling.”
The Secretary’s office has resources for voters available online at votetexas.gov. It contains information about where and how to vote as well as a page for college students who are voting for the first time or who are living outside of the presinct where they are registered.
Cascos ended by saying voting is a way for individuals to have a voice in society.
“You have to hold elected officals accountable,” he said. “The only way you’re going to hold them accountable is at the ballot box.”