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Secretary Cascos: You can change Texas’ Voting Culture

Op-ed from Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos

 

As Texans, we have a natural desire for our state to be the biggest and best at everything. One place we aren’t the biggest, however, is voter turnout. Not since 1992 have more than 60 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in a presidential election, with even fewer voters in other election years.

The reasons people don’t vote include not being excited about the candidates running, not feeling like their votes matter, to simply not feeling invested in the issues up for debate.

As Texas Secretary of State, I can’t change how voters feel about candidates or issues, but I can work on two things: making sure every Texan who wants to vote has the information he or she needs to cast a ballot and promote a culture of voting in our great state.

Since 2004 the Texas Secretary of State’s office has spent millions educating voters through statewide voter education initiatives. In 2014, before I was Secretary, the agency spent more than $2 million on an education campaign including television, radio, and digital advertising, in addition to extensive public relations and community outreach efforts. The result is that the Vote Texas message was shared more than 832 million times both in paid advertising and direct news coverage. The campaign resulted in measureable increases of awareness of voting requirements, such as photo ID for voting in person.

As we approach a presidential election year, our agency will spend more than $4 million from now through the November 2016 Election on voter education. These funds, which come from a legislative appropriation, will help our agency remind and prepare Texans to vote using strategies that have been proven to work in previous campaigns.

No amount of money, however, can reach every Texan qualified to vote. Nor, will a paid advertisement or news story prompt every Texan into action. The truth is each of you has the power to encourage someone to vote. Reaching out to your family, friends, church and civic organizations in which you are personally involved, you can do more than a paid campaign ever could. That is why I am asking for your help and why our agency is a resource for you exercise your right to vote.

Our voting website, VoteTexas.gov, is the official voting resource with information about the who, when, where and how of voting. On this site you’ll find tools to help spread the word about upcoming elections and find answers to frequently asked questions. The website is available in English and Spanish, and both versions have a mobile format making it easy to view on your phone or tablet. We are also engaging with voters on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Texans who prefer not to go online for their information can call 1-800-252-VOTE or their county elections office with questions about voting.

We will also continue to partner with community groups that have the credibility and contacts to reach out to their members. In 2014, the agency connected with more than 400 community groups to provide key voting information and suggestions for ways these groups can engage their members about the importance of voting.

The ways we connect with voters are as diverse as the state itself. I want to provide Texans with voting information in whatever form works best for them, and that includes spreading the message in person. During the next 13 months I’ll be traveling across the state getting the word out about our voting resources.

As a part of these travels, I will reach out to young voters by visiting high schools and college campuses. I believe if we reach young Texans who will be old enough to vote for the first time in a presidential election, we can help them establish a lifetime of civic engagement. Additionally, if they come from a family where voting isn’t practiced, young voters can close a generational gap by encouraging their parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents to get involved.

If Texas is going to see a change in voting numbers it will require a cultural change in the state. A cultural change does not come from a state agency or an appointed state official but from Texas citizens making the decision to vote and encouraging others to do the same. As a presidential election will bring increased interest to Texas elections in 2016, we have the opportunity to start encouraging voters. I ask you to join me in voting and encouraging friends, family, neighbors and co-workers to vote Texas.

 

Cascos is the 110th Texas Secretary of State. In that role, he serves as the state’s Chief Election Officer.