TU Census and Voter Engagement Task Force prepares for November elections


Rachel Boaz Toppel, Zachary Neeley and Brian Yancelson serve on a subcomittee that is organizing a voter registration contest. Photo credit: Kate Nuelle

Rachel Boaz Toppel, Zachary Neeley and Brian Yancelson serve on a subcomittee that is organizing a voter registration contest.
Rachel Boaz Toppel, Zachary Neeley and Brian Yancelson serve on a subcomittee that is organizing a voter registration contest. Photo credit: Kate Nuelle

Photo by Kate Nuelle

“REMEMBER THERE’S AN ELECTION THIS FALL!” reads the all-caps, bolded print inside several professors’ syllabi. Following are a list of election dates and hyperlinks to voter resources. This recurring, copy-pasted blurb is courtesy of the TU 2020 Census and Voter Engagement Task Force.

The syllabus language, which some professors have opted to include in their fall 2020 syllabi, is one of the many initiatives the Census and Voter Engagement Task Force has undertaken to spread awareness about civic engagement to Trinity students this semester.

“2020 represents a pretty significant year,” said Jamie Thompson, Assistant Dean of Students, director of Student Involvement and founding member of the task force. “[There is] a census and a general election, and at that a contentious one.”

Thompson and former colleague Scott Brown, who recently took a new job opportunity at the University of Texas at Austin, founded the task force in the fall of 2019.

Thompson and Brown started the task force as a “passion project” until the two realized that they could “make something formal and really build momentum around these efforts,” said Thompson.

Thus, the task force was born. The task force has no formal hierarchy and includes faculty and staff from all over campus. It also includes representatives of myriad campus student cultural, religious and political organizations.

In spring 2020, the task force directed their efforts at the 2020 Census. The task force worked to support the university’s group enumeration, or counting, all on-campus and City Vista students for the Census. They also provided the addresses of off-campus students to the Census Bureau so that census takers could follow up with those residences.

The task force also raised awareness by making videos and distributing materials.

Juan Sepúlveda, professor of political science, joined the task force because he “loved what they were doing, “Sepúlveda said. “I love that our group has been whoever wants to participate and step up to participate.”

Stepping up is the task force’s specialty. The task force has undertaken numerous efforts this fall to get Trinity students registered and voting.

The task force has deputized dozens of students, allowing them to register other students to vote. They have also conducted numerous trainings for student leaders, including First–Year Experience peer tutors, student organization leadership and athletic teams. The idea is to proliferate voting information and resources as far and wide as possible on campus.

“Most people I know, they want to vote, they want to be active and civically engaged” said Sarah Pita, sophomore Student Government Association senator, political science major and member of the task force’s social media team. “It’s just a matter of ‘how do I do that?’”

“What’s tricky is that you basically have 51 different versions of what’s going on, with each state and D.C. setting up their own set of rules,” said Sepúlveda.

The task force is heavily encouraging students to use the TurboVote and LibGuide pages set up specifically for Trinity. The LibGuide has general voter information for the most common states of origin of Trinity students and TurboVote is a resource where you enter your address and the program walks you through how to register and vote where you live.

“Texas is a challenge,” Sepúlveda said. “We’re one of the six states in the country where you cannot use the pandemic as an excuse to get a mail-in ballot. We’re really encouraging people not to wait until November the 3rd [to vote].”

“Especially this year with coronavirus it’s just much more difficult logistically to figure out where you need to register, where you need to vote,” said Pita.

The Trinity Maverick Society, which is currently putting together multiple civic engagement workshops in conjunction with the task force, hopes to increase turnout and help demystify the process.

“[We believe] that civic engagement is one of the most important things one can take part in to increase the wellbeing of individuals,” said Matthew Garr, junior psychology major and one of the Maverick Society’s representatives on the task force.

“Due to COVID-19 and the many questions around mail-in voting, it is now more important than ever to make sure that voters are informed about the best and safest ways to vote,” Garr said. “Voter engagement is more important than it has been in recent memory, and if we can play a part in increasing it, then we have done our job successfully.”

One of the task force’s most attention-grabbing initiatives is to get students to sign up to be poll workers.

“60% [of poll workers] nationally are usually senior citizens, but it’s obviously not healthy for seniors to be working the polls” Sepúlveda said. “We’re lucky in Bexar County [because] students can get paid.”

The task force has also signed onto and facilitates relationships with several non-partisan groups aimed at increasing voter registration and turnout.

On behalf of Trinity, the task force signed onto the Ask Every Student program, which is a commitment to ask every student on campus to register to vote, and continued Trinity’s membership as an ALL IN challenge-participating school, which commits signatories to developing, articulating and “calendaring out” an action plan to support student voting and registration. After making that set of plans, ALL IN then provides resources to the institution to assist with voter registration and turnout.

Trinity also participates with the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement, which takes voter data being sent to think tanks and connects it with institutions like Trinity. Institutions then use that information to guide their approaches to voter outreach.

“[We] look at the data and use it to set goals. [We] saw that females vote higher than males,” Thompson said. “What to do to bump up male voting?”

The task force has and continues to facilitate events, raise awareness and reach out to students, staff and faculty with resources.

“The only thing that holds us back is our own bandwidth,” Thompson said.

Bridging the geographical divide that the Trinity community faces due to COVID-19, the task force has various virtual event coming up, including a Voting 101″ workshop on Sept. 17 and #voteTUgether student org training workshops on Sept. 18 as a part of Leadershipalooza.