July 7, 2016
By Skyler Korgel
In my experience, registering eligible voters has been an unpredictable experience that draws up a wide array of emotions and reflections on the state of American democracy. Since I became a volunteer deputy registrar (VDR) in February 2016, I have attended five voter registration events, conducted registration-focused block walking, and reached out to my voting-eligible friends yet have only been able to bring 20 people into the realm of political participation. On one hand, I have been able to empower soon-to-be voters, give them critical information about how voting works in Texas, and connect them with resources to become informed about issues and candidates. On the other hand, I have had more than enough instances of perfectly eligible persons outright declining to register to vote, ensuring they can’t engage in the system by which our lives and society are dependent.
My first experience with helping others to register to vote was in early 2012 during my senior year of high school as the presidential primaries raged on. Although I was not yet 18 years old, I stumbled upon a pile of mail-in registration forms and carried them around in my backpack hoping to encounter a classmate old enough to register. I didn’t get too many of my peers to register themselves then, but having the knowledge to answer the questions of anyone politically curious was important to have. Unfortunately, the drive to help my peers register to vote faded when I was transplanted to Austin and remained so while attempting to figure out life anew until a few months ago. The first voter I registered as a VDR was a close friend that had recently moved to Austin, but like so many others, had no idea what to do or where to go to be able to register to vote. In the moment, it felt great to help a friend fulfill his right to vote. But I soon realized the extent to which information regarding voting is out-of-sight-out-of-mind to those who do not intentionally prioritize keeping up with current events and politics.
While being able to register a citizen is a uniquely empowering skill, the mere existence of a societal need for VDRs speaks to the decline of personal civic engagement in the state of Texas. In preparation for voter contact and registration efforts at the Campaign Academy, we have heard of nearly every rationale to convince infrequent voters to vote including the civic duty and “people gave their lives for this right” arguments, yet these prove unconvincing to the average voter until it’s made personal. Since becoming intensely involved in the immigrant rights movement, for me, voting has taken on a completely new and deeply personal significance compared to when I first registered. Now, a significant portion of my closest friends are undocumented and I devote my time, efforts, and passion to immigrants young and old who are ineligible to vote and, as things are now, will live their entire lives without that ability. So when I cast my vote, I do so with them in mind. Yet too often during voter registration efforts I am disappointed by people who are admittedly too uninformed or complacent to exercise their right to vote, which is denied to my friends. Throughout my time at the Academy, I have heard excuses not to register from, “It looks like too much paperwork,” and, “Not this year, both candidates suck,” to, “That (voting) is not really my ‘thing’”. Thus, allinall trying to register people to vote has left a net negative impression on me, but, then again, the mind tends to focus on negative factors tenfold over positive factors.
From the elation of opening the political system up to enthusiastic newcomers to the frustration of wading through complacency and ignorance, being a volunteer deputy registrar comes with a unique set of joys and challenges as well as dual optimism and pessimism about the direction of our democracy. Above all of that though, this experience has helped me more fully understand the value of my own advocacy and political participation as a voice and vote in solidarity with my friends that are shut out of the ballot box, yet whose lives are greatly more affected by the results.