Dozens of campaign signs line the sidewalks at the University of Houston’s student center, signaling one last attempt to capture the vote of the students heading inside to cast their ballots. 

As in previous elections, however, it appears that message isn’t resonating with many potential young voters.

There was a flurry of activity outside the building last Friday, the final day of early voting ahead of Tuesday’s election, but when freshmen A’Joy Benn, Tori Macharia and Jerami Hurd strolled out among a constant stream of students, voting was the last thing on their minds.  

At 18, each is eligible to vote for the first time this year, but none had yet cast their ballots and they weren’t certain they would. Benn said the importance of the civic duty wasn’t lost on her, but she hadn’t found the time to vote.

“I would vote, because I know that voting, it really does make a difference, but I just haven’t gotten to it,” Benn said. 

For Hurd, the responsibility of voting this election cycle is one that she is not sure she is prepared for. She admitted she had not researched any of the mayoral or council candidates, so she could not feel confident voting for any of them. 

“I don’t know anything about all who’s running, right?” Hurd said. “If I was gonna vote, I don’t know what they stand for.”

Hurd, Macharia and Benn are not alone — young people are not known for their high voter turnout. In the 2022 midterms, just 23 percent of all Americans aged 18 to 29 voted.

Houston’s youth has not shown much appetite for breaking that trend in recent elections. Only 25 percent of young Houstonians registered to vote showed up for the 2022 midterm. 

University of Houston students A’Joy Benn, 18, Tori Macharia, 18, and Jerami Hurd, 18, pose for a portrait near a Harris County voting site at the UH Student Center, Friday, Nov. 3, 2023, in Houston. (Marie D. De Jesús / Houston Landing)

Researchers and experts say low youth voter turnout is not the result of any single issue. Young people are more likely to face a variety of barriers — including a lack of assistance navigating the voting process, inflexible job schedules and physical distance from their polling location — that make voting more difficult. 

For UH student Tristan Alhadad, whether he will vote boils down to whether he has time. By Friday afternoon, he had not yet made the trip back to his home in Fort Bend, where he is registered. 

University of Houston student Tristan Alhadad, 19, near a Harris County voting site at the UH Student Center, Friday, Nov. 3, 2023, in Houston. (Marie D. De Jesús / Houston Landing)

Experts have pointed to the fact that young people, especially when attending college, tend to be in temporary living situations in communities they are not deeply connected to as a reason for lower turnout. For Alhadad and others, it is an additional obstacle to travel home to vote, especially when it means having to work around school or employment schedules.  

Additionally, Alhadad was undecided about whether he would vote because he did not know what issue or positions were on the ballot, though he was aware there was an election approaching. 

“I think it’s local stuff, as the signs are saying,” Alhadad said. “But I also work on Tuesdays, so I don’t know if I’ll be going then.”

Joshua Sambrano, an 18-year-old Houston Community College student, said he felt compelled to vote because Hispanic youth, like himself, do not see themselves represented in local government. 

He said he could not sit on the sidelines and watch that underrepresentation continue without getting involved. So, he started campaigning for Joaquin Martinez, a District I City Council candidate. As a field intern, he said he has noticed younger people have been less engaged in this year’s race. 

“A lot of younger people are kind of demoralized towards politics in general because they see all of this hyper-partisan, hyper-polarization and they don’t even want to join the conversation,” Sambrano said. “There’s not enough younger representation, not enough younger votes coming in, and our laws reflect that.”

For others, voting may become an action they perform because they believe it is the right thing to do. Political scientists have said voting out of habit is a behavior some develop over time, when they see others around them do the same. 

Luis Torres, 22, said he is motivated to vote because it has become somewhat of a routine act. He was further pushed to the polls by his plans to vote for mayoral candidate Sheila Jackson Lee, he said.  

“I usually just tend to vote always because I feel like it’s something I should be doing,” he said.

Matthew Black, a 21-year-old Brazoria county resident, said the issue of supporting teachers largely influenced his plan to vote this year. State Proposition 9, his main draw, could increase pensions for retired teachers and public school employees if passed. 

Additionally, Black said he votes in every election because he is not happy with the government. 

“It feels like, especially local elections, that’s more impactful in your average day-to-day life,” Black said. 

Several of the young voters recognized they are unlike most of their peers — many of them have not discussed the upcoming election with each other.

Martinez knows he is more politically engaged than the average 18 year old, so he organized what he calls a “voting party,” where his peers will get informed about what is on their ballot before they go vote. 

“It’s really sad to see that a lot of these communities are underrepresented despite, you know, having such vibrant communities here in Houston,” Martinez said. “I gotta get involved somehow.”

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Miranda Dunlap is a reporter covering K-12 schools across the eight-county Greater Houston region. A painfully Midwestern native to Michigan’s capital region, Miranda studied political science pre-law...