I’m a Gen-Z college student in Dallas and a recent immigrant from Venezuela. I registered thousands of students to vote last year, and I’ve got a message for the Texas Legislature: Don’t try to ban college students from voting on college campuses. If you do, get ready for us to work even harder to vote. It would be like treading on a snake. Never mind “Don’t mess with Texas.” Don’t mess with Gen-Z’s political empowerment in Texas and don’t tread on us. D’y’all hear?
Texas Republicans introduced a slew of election bills this past legislative session. The goal of each of them seems to be simple: suppress votes. A particular group that the Legislature seems keen to hear less from is people born between 1997 and 2010. And I can imagine why. We tend to be political in a different way from older folks. We’re less divided on party lines and more inclined to vote on issues that show up in our communities.
Research shows we care most about health care, mass shootings and mental health. But the Texas Legislature hasn’t done a lot for my generation on those issues. Texas filed more anti-trans legislation this session than any other state. The bills would criminalize medical providers for following established standards of care.
On May 6 there was a mass shooting at an outlet mall in Allen, Texas, just 15 minutes from where I live. We just passed the first anniversary of the Uvalde shooting. Police guards have been showing up outside of elementary schools, yet the Legislature’s efforts to enact sensible gun control policies continue to flounder. To top that all off, young women’s mental health is at record lows. We’re right to ask our political leaders: what have you done for us, lately?
It seems the Legislature is less inclined to consider how best to incorporate Gen-Z’s views in its policymaking. Instead, it seems keener to suppress our votes. It’s remarkable in its anti-democratic behavior. This is a direct attack on youth voters. Texas House Bill 2390 would ban college polling locations, a vital place for young voters to cast their ballots. As a fellow with a nonpartisan young women’s political empowerment organization and organizer who ran voter turnout and democracy engagement efforts at my local community college, I am well aware of the impacts this bill would have on students in Texas.
After graduating from community college last month, I’m heading to the University of North Texas in the fall, where I’ll major in political science and register more students to vote. Already my fellow students are furious about this bill, but it’s not just Texas trying to stifle our voices at the ballot box.
H.B. 2390 is part of a nationwide effort to suppress the Gen-Z vote. Idaho banned voting with student IDs, Ohio removed student IDs from the list of options used to verify voters’ eligibility and the Florida Senate passed similar bill that would have forced first-time voters to provide a verified Social Security number, a valid state-issued driver’s license or a Florida ID card to register to vote and to vote by mail. It would have created a barrier for young people who may not have all the necessary documents and will prove especially difficult for those who are new to the state or have recently turned 18 (this provision was ultimately taken out by the Florida House).
Here in Texas, abortion is also illegal now, which means young people can’t choose what to do with our bodies. When the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision came down in June 2022, it enraged a generation. Then, Gen-Z swept the 2022 midterms. We continue to be decisive voters in 2023, starting in April with our pivotal role in the election of a pro-abortion Supreme Court judge in Wisconsin. Following the Dobbs decision, female voters signed up to vote at record rates and large numbers of female voters are ready to mobilize to the polls.
As an immigrant in Texas, I have seen how my perspective is missing from too many decisions. All this sets up a picture where I can see the barriers to success for young women like me. The research shows that men are, historically, more likely to consider politics as a career than women are. But I am determined and so are my peers. We must suggest running for office to more young women. When you try to keep us down, we rise. In many ways I realize that’s what makes me a quintessential Texan, too. I’m ready to fight for what I believe in and make sure Gen-Z’s voice is heard.
Isabella Fuentes is a North Texas fellow for IGNITE, a nonpartisan young women’s political empowerment organization.