By De Elizabeth
In the months leading up to the 2016 Presidential Election, Maya Patel discovered she was really, really good at getting people excited about voting.
Shortly after kicking off her freshman year at the University of Texas at Austin that fall, she enlisted as a Volunteer Deputy Registrar (VDR), which allowed her to register fellow classmates to vote in the upcoming election. Within a month, she had helped over 250 classmates and peers sign up.
“I loved helping students figure out how to register, and how to actually vote, and giving them nonpartisan voting information,” Patel, now a senior majoring in chemistry and recipient of the 2019 MTV Leaders for Change grant, told MTV News. “I wanted to figure out ways that I could step up my involvement.”
Today, she is the Texas State Coordinator and Chair of the Student Advisory Board for the Campus Vote Project, an organization that aims to institutionalize democratic engagement on higher education campuses. In her role, Patel serves as a link between students and community organizations that work on voting rights issues and helps promote voting access on campuses across the state and country. At UT, she also works closely with TX Votes, a student-run organization striving to assist other students with the voting process, while inspiring the entire campus community to become civically engaged.
Patel’s work at UT has made voting more accessible — and easier to understand — for the system’s 50,000+ enrolled students. She created and piloted a classroom voter registration program, which allowed students to register without disruption to their schedules. “That can be a challenge at UT when some of these classrooms have 500 students in them and you only have 50 minutes or less…to get all of the students registered to vote,” Patel explained. “So we figured out what worked and what didn’t. For the 2018 election cycle, we went into over 300 classrooms and registered students in class — anywhere from a 15-person class to a 500-person class. That proved to be our most effective way of reaching students.”
But Patel knows that registration is only half the battle for increasing voting numbers; that’s why she also led the effort to create a second on-campus polling location for the 2018 midterm elections at the university’s Austin campus. “In 2016, we saw lines that wrapped around the one on-campus polling location,” she recalled, adding that at one point, students were waiting for more than three hours. “I saw so many students leave because they…didn’t have time for that.”
Putting in the work to help young people feel supported at the polls is paying off: a record-number of 18 to 35-year-olds registered to vote in Travis County, T
By De Elizabeth