UTSA College of Public Policy campaign encourages participation in election

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By Christi Fish
Associate Director of Media Relations

(Nov. 5, 2012) -- SA Votes, an awareness campaign developed by The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) College of Public Policy (COPP) is working to develop a learn-participate-vote environment in San Antonio beginning with the 2012 general election. The SA Votes framework started at UTSA, where key partnerships with the university's Student Government Association and Office of External Affairs resulted in more than 3,000 newly registered voters.

The campaign supports San Antonio's SA2020 plan, which aims to transform San Antonio into a world-class city with a small town feel by the year 2020. UTSA is the lead partner for SA2020's government accountability and civic engagement focus area.

Each year, representatives from the Bexar County Voter Registration Department travel to San Antonio colleges and universities to train faculty, staff and students to serve as volunteer deputy registrars. This year, however, the training was held in county buildings. One hundred UTSA faculty, staff and students attended deputation training and earned their certification, which last two years. Additionally, COPP used the change in process to encourage participation on other local campuses.

Through email, the SA Votes 2012 team provided local campuses with the dates, times and locations of the training sessions.

"We went door-to-door at the Downtown Campus to help faculty and staff members understand what it meant to become a deputy," said Patricia Jaramillo, a lecturer in the UTSA Department of Public Administration. "The UT System has strict rules about what employees can and cannot do to encourage political participation. The Office of External Affairs was very helpful in translating that for us so we could appropriately develop and conduct our campaign."

UTSA's partner, the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, made great progress in registering voters in the area.

"The UTSA partnership is a model we want to duplicate with other institutions of higher learning across Texas and nationally," said Lydia Camarillo, SVREP vice president. "By working with faculty, staff and students, we have registered a total of 7,123 people at the UTSA campuses. This number represents 23 percent of the student body."

"We are very proud of the important work that our faculty, staff and students have done as voluntary deputy registrars," said Rogelio Saenz, dean of the UTSA College of Public Policy. "In addition, I am very pleased to see the large number of students throughout UTSA that registered to vote. An informed and civically engaged student body is essential to democracy."

Election laws state that any U.S. citizen can distribute voter registration cards. Only deputies, however, can accept completed registration cards and deliver them to the Bexar County Elections Department. Through tabling, tailgating, brief classroom announcements and National Voter Registration Day activities, the deputies registered 3,006 voters.

Since that time, COPP, UTSA students and the League of Women Voters have partnered to host a forum featuring local judicial candidates.

The Southwest Voter Registration Education Project is now phoning and emailing the voters UTSA registered to remind them to hit the polls.

"The upcoming election provided us with a great opportunity to engage the UTSA community and other local colleges and universities in the political process," said Jaramillo. "In the future, we will build upon those successes to increase civic participation in support of SA2020."