By Ava Dunwoody | Staff Writer
Free shuttles from Baylor’s Need a Ride to Vote initiative have begun taking students from campus to the nearest McLennan County polling site and back. The shuttle service is offered on a sign-up basis three Tuesdays during the early voting period.
President Linda Livingstone signed on to the nonpartisan ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, which commits universities to 100% voter turnout in registration and participation. Along with more than 160 other colleges, Baylor is taking active steps to encourage voter participation.
“We do a good job of registering students, but we don’t always see that many students going to the polls,” Dr. Mito Diaz-Espinoza, Baylor associate director for civic learning initiatives, said.
In the 2016 election, 81.1% of Baylor students were registered to vote, but only 41.1% actually voted, which is below the college campus average of 50.4%. Diaz-Espinoza said Tufts University’s National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) shares this information with Baylor each year.
Diaz-Espinoza said the problem is actually getting the students to vote, which might be because students wait too long to make a plan, don’t register in time, get busy with school or don’t have a car to drive there.
“There’s no polling location on campus, so students have to go off campus to vote,” Diaz-Espinoza said. “We wanted to create a program that would allow students to get from campus to the voting booth and back for free.”
Especially for students like Plano freshmen Noah Ayers, who is living in a dorm without a car on campus, having a free way to get to the polls is important.
“I don’t have a car on campus,” Ayers said. The shuttles are “a service I’d be interested in. I couldn’t drive to the polls if I wanted to, so using the service would be preferable in that circumstance.”
The first round of shuttles went to the polls on Oct. 13, while the two remaining dates are Oct. 20 and 27. On these days, shuttles will pick up students from the bear habitat at three different times throughout the day and bring them back once they have finished voting.
Students must pre-register by filling out a form to save a seat by 9 a.m. the Monday beforehand. So far, Diaz-Espinoza said about 42 students have signed up. The service also partnered with Baylor Athletics to take a bus of student athletes to the polls on Oct. 13.
Baylor’s Need a Ride to Vote shuttles are being provided by the visitor experience office and are the ones typically used for some campus tours, Diaz-Espinoza said.
“For students who aren’t able to go on Tuesdays, the City of Waco and Waco Transit also has a wave-and-ride bus that makes a loop around La Salle to Downtown and back,” Diaz-Espinoza said. “Students are able to walk out on La Salle, wave their hand, and the bus will pull over” and take them to and from the polling location for free.
Diaz-Espinoza said the shuttle service is being offered for early voting because “voting is like writing a paper or studying for an exam. You all, as college students, know it’s there. You know you’re going to do it, but you push it off until tomorrow.” After a few days of procrastination, “you’re staying up all night” trying to get it in on time.
“We are trying to discourage that and get you to make a plan early,” Diaz-Espinoza said, “because on Election Day on Nov. 3, we anticipate lines of an hour and a half to two hours long. We don’t want students standing in line that long because of COVID exposure but also because you just don’t have time to fit that in your schedule.”
In addition to the Need a Ride to Vote service, Baylor’s Academy for Leadership Development has also encouraged voting participation by holding registration drives on campus. They have also partnered with The Andrew Goodman Foundation and created the BearsVOTE webpage with voting resources. To learn more, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or CES@baylor.edu.
“As students at Baylor, we understand how big spirituality is a part of us and what that means and how it enhances our learning experience,” Diaz-Espinoza said. “Its the same thing with politics. You are involved in politics, whether you’re voting or not voting. Decisions are being made on your behalf, and they are impacting you and your loved ones, so make sure your voice is heard.”