By Jessica Chia
and Travis Taylor
“To vote or not to vote?”
That is not the question – what has been called into question is the ability of campus partisan groups to hold voter registration drives. This year they cannot, although they have been allowed in years past.
As the Oct. 9 deadline for voter registration approaches, Student Activities officials have asked partisan student organizations to put voter-registration efforts on hold until the officials fine-tune their policy.
“Baylor, as a nonprofit entity, has some restrictions as far as showing partisanship,” said Matt Burchett, director of Student Activities. “This is not a restriction. We just want to make sure we’re doing this the right way.”
Student Activities put a stop to the Baylor Democrats’ voter-registration drive midweek, despite the fact that the organization had received prior approval to hold the drive Tuesday through Friday of last week in the Bill Daniel Student Union Building.
“I got the notice that we had to pack up shop Thursday around noon. Part of Thursday and all day Friday we didn’t get to register voters,” said Adaobi Ekweani, president of the Baylor Democrats.
“We haven’t done anything wrong,” Ekweani said. “The issue was that some higher-ups at Baylor thought it would just be a better idea if partisan groups didn’t participate, that it would somehow put Baylor’s status as a nonprofit at risk.”
Ekweani said Baylor Democrats members were shocked their voter registration drive was halted, in light of the fact that the organization did not involve their political views with the effort.
“It’s bizarre. Our goal was not to register only Democrats, it was to register anyone who was interested in getting registered. We didn’t ask anyone what political affiliation they belonged to,” Ekweani said. “I am very cautious about how we are perceived, and I don’t think that our partisanship should ever be the first thing that comes across to voters.”
Burchett said Student Activities actually asked that the Baylor Democrats put their voter-registration drive on hold, not cancel the effort.
“There are some restrictions in this circumstance. We are not restricting Baylor Democrats from doing a voter-registration drive,” Burchett said.
Ekweani said the organization respects Baylor’s decision, but is now facing difficulties fulfilling the goals of the statewide organization, the Texas College Democrats, which encouraged chapters to register voters until Oct. 9 to accommodate the new regulations and continue to register voters. The Baylor Democrats are partnering with the African Student Association this Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. In the Student Union Building.
Next week, Ekweani said, several Baylor Democrats members are planning on volunteering on an individual basis with student government’s voter-registration effort.
“This will be the last week that we have our name attached to anything that we do,” Ekweani said. “We’re moving forward. We’re still going to try to reach as many people as we can with the message that the young vote is vital to this election, as it will be in coming years.”
Brandon Waltens, chairman of the Baylor Young Conservatives of Texas, said he was unaware of Student Activities’ stance until he was approached by the Lariat about the issue.
Waltens said he couldn’t think of a reason for the policy shift.
“It’s a big deal because it’s a fundamental part of what our organization does on campus,” Waltens said.
Waltens said it’s not likely that Baylor Young Conservatives will follow the Baylor Democrats’ lead and partner with another organization in order to register voters.
“It’s kind of about the principle that we should be able to register voters,” Waltens said. “Our primary goal is to reverse the whole rule with Student Activities and to just reinstate the same rights that everyone else had in every election prior to this one.”
Baylor Young Conservatives has submitted a request to hold a voter registration drive but is waiting for a response from Student Activities.
“I would just ask why they are trying to keep the most politically engaged groups on campus from participating in a civic duty like registering voters,” Waltens said.
Trenton Garza, president of the Texas College Democrats and president emeritus of the Baylor Democrats, said he disagrees with the action taken by the Student Activities.
“It ruins the experience of students – that experience of reaching out to their students and peers and getting them registered to vote,” Garza said. “If the university really wants students registered to vote, the more organizations out there doing that, the more people doing that, that’s how you get that done.”
Burchett said the purpose of the change is to consolidate voter-registration efforts, not ban them.
“We are excited that our students are actively engaged and encouraging their peers to be involved in the upcoming election,” Burchett said. “We aren’t going to control voter registration. Instead of having six drives, let’s come together and do this.”
Due to last week’s intervention, potential voters had no way to register on campus last Friday.
“If someone was going to look for us that day, then that’s one person that might not vote,” said Ekweani. “I don’t think that would’ve happened to more than five people, but those people’s voices need to be heard. Voting is a really big deal.”
Burchett said Student Activities appreciates the active political groups on campus but is concerned that candidate support be separate from voter registration.
“We are working towards scheduling a meeting with all the political organizations on campus,” Burchett said. “As long as events are consistent with university policy, we won’t control voter registration.”
Students who have yet to register to vote may do so through the BU Vote effort, sponsored by student Government.
Student Government and partner organization Baylor Ambassadors will be registering voters from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m today in Penland Dining Hall.
Students can also register in the student government office on the first floor of the Student Union Building during business hours through Oct. 9.