At the start of election season, organizations and local officials rushed to help students register to vote in an effort to combat low turnout at the polls, which has traditionally plagued the city.
The effort seems to have paid off. Voter turnout for the Nov. 3 local election was higher than it was in 2013, the last offseason election.
“In San Marcos, a lot of us take voting very seriously,” said Councilman John Thomaides, Place 3. “We know it is the only way for there to be change.”
There were 3,158 votes cast in the Nov. 3 election, according to data provided by Hays County. In 2014, when both the governor of Texas and the mayor of San Marcos positions were up for election, 7,539 ballots were cast in the city. In 2013, only 2,284 ballots were cast.
Thomaides said low voter turnout is an issue across the country, but the situation has been improving in San Marcos. He said early voting numbers were up by approximately 30 percent.
This year 1,496 ballots were cast during early voting, compared to just 1,001 in 2013, according to the data.
Ted Breihan, San Marcos resident and former city council member, said there are more active citizens now than there were during his term in the 1970s.
“We didn’t have quite the issues in San Marcos that we do now,” Breihan said.
He said issues created as a result of a large influx of college students in the city and inefficient infrastructure that complicates getting around town are causing more citizens to vote.
This year, there were 28,103 voters registered in San Marcos. That is 529 voters less than last year, but still 151 more than 2013, according to the data.
“If you want to see change at the national level, you have to start at the local level,” said Holly Hearn, mass communication freshman and deputy communication director of College Democrats at Texas State.
As campaign season kicked into high gear earlier this year, the College Democrats tabled on the Quad to help students register to vote in Hays County.
“Most of us spend four to five years here, and most of us are impacted by issues like student housing and the river,” Hearn said.
Newly elected Councilwoman Melissa Derrick, Place 6, said the flash flooding that occurred Oct. 30 possibly stopped more people from voting.
“People are too busy cleaning up from the flood and too focused of taking care of their family, as they should be,” Derrick said. “And honestly, the flood can be depressing.”
Derrick said low voter turnout is partly a result of a city government that has ignored the wants of citizens in the past. She said the unresponsiveness can make citizens feel disenfranchised.
As a city councilwoman, Derrick said she hopes to restore people’s faith in local government, which will encourage citizens to vote in upcoming elections.
Citizens were ignored when they voted to transform Cape’s Camp into parkland, Derrick said. Instead the area became the location for a student housing development, which some residents believe worsened the effects of the Memorial Day weekend flooding in the adjacent neighborhood, Blanco Gardens.
Holly Doyle, member of the Texas State chapter of Texas Freedom Network, stood in the Quad Nov. 3 and helped students register to vote, even though it was too late for this year’s city council election.
Doyle said the chapter is committed to fostering a strong sense of civic engagement among university students.
“I vote because it is incredibly important to be engaged in your community,” Doyle said.
However, Doyle is not expecting to see a big change in voter turnout in the near future. She said it is going to be a gradual process.
Including Washington D.C., Texas is 51st in terms of voter turnout, Doyle said.
Doyle believes this is because Texas Voter ID laws makes it hard to vote. She said many citizens are disenfranchised.
“I’m not inclined to say millennials are apathetic, because I’ve seen that generation show empathy,” Doyle said. “But, many have not mobilized to vote.”