Voting their values: Tarleton students head to polls hoping to make a difference

This story was based on interviews by Kodi Davis, Brittany Felch, Mekenzie Garza, Eliza Goldsberry, Hope Hale, Madison Hudson, Emilee Jackson, Emery Lang, Sullivan Latka, Megan McCord, Destinee Miller, Katie O’Brien, Adrianna Rousseau, Jenna Whitmire and Alexia Woods.

Many Tarleton State University students are voting for the first time in this year’s midterm election, drawn to the polls by the hotly contested Senate race in Texas and the values they see reflected in their chosen candidates.

Texan News interviewed 20 people on Election Day-eve to gauge their interest in particular races and issues and the factors that influenced their decisions to vote.

Many said they felt it was their civic duty and that their vote would make a difference.

“It adds up pretty quickly—one person can be the defining vote,” said Telor Swindle, a sophomore psychology major.

“I think it’s really important that my voice be heard because it makes a difference,” added Torie Setzler, a 20-year-old business major and junior from Aledo.

Some students said they were concerned about low voting rates in the state.

“I plan on voting because Texas has a really high no-vote population and that should be changed,” said Nikki Bundrant, a junior sociology major from Evant.

The midterm election boils down to shared beliefs and values for her and other Tarleton student voters.

“I looked deeply into each of their policies and campaigns and went with the candidates that I felt best fit Texas and was right,” Bundrant said.

Some students said their families’ political views were very influential in their decisions, while others said they formed their own opinions.

“I come from a split house (politically) so I try to formulate an unbiased opinion through information of news outlets of my choosing,” said Dylan Jackson, a 21-year-old senior marketing major. “My mom and stepdad are Democrats. My stepmom is a right-wing conservative. My dad is a Libertarian. I am fiscally conservative and socially democratic, so I clash with both homes.”

“My views started to change more around early high school,” he added.
“During (President Barack) Obama’s second term, I began to research news outlets.”

Erath County overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump for the Republican presidential bid in 2016 and some voters want to see the GOP stay in control of the federal branches of government.

“I want to keep Texas a red state,” said first-time voter Natalee Rowland, a 19-year-old sophomore animal science production major from Meridian. She said she was influenced some by her parents and grandparents, but she “wanted to be a Republican and conservative myself.”

Another first-time voter, Richard Culpepper, a 19-year-old psychology major from Fort Worth, said he’s done research on his own about the candidates.

“It’s my first election and I want to exercise my rights and let my voice be heard,” he said.

Culpepper said Snapchat’s “snap stories” explained the importance of voting.

“That really influenced me to get out and go to the polls,” he said.

But Culpepper also listened to the debates and educated himself on the candidates.

He and his family don’t vote the same way, he added.

“Over the years my views have grown and I have become more comfortable in what I believe,” Culpepper said. “I have the exact opposite views of my family, but that doesn’t affect my own personal beliefs.”

Social media sites, which came under criticism after the 2016 presidential election for allowing Russian “trolls” to create fake news to influence the election, aren’t playing as large of a role in the midterm election, according to those interviewed.

Anysha Burnham, 19, a sophomore nursing major from Waco, said social media led her into directions to research.

“I wanted to know why some people sided with each of the candidates,” she said.

“The media has influenced me to watch the debates myself, so things aren’t taken out of context, and that I make my own educated opinion,” added Natalie Finn, 18, who is voting for the first time.

Eddie Torres, 29, a senior criminal justice major, said social media can be very “one-sided” and he didn’t want that kind of influence.

“I sat down with my wife and we looked at the candidates’ different plans for their would-be terms,” Torres said.

But some students found social media helped them understand the election better.

“Social media made me want to read more about a different party other than the one I was originally going to vote for,” said Jasmine Pearman, 21, a junior kinesiology major from Decatur.

Of all the political races on the ballot, the U.S. Senate battle pitting incumbent Houston Republican Ted Cruz against Democrat and U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso generated the most interest from Tarleton students interviewed.

“We don’t want Beto in office,” Rowland said. “Cruz isn’t one of the strongest candidates Texas has seen over the years, but he is better than the alternative.”

Kallie Redding, 21, a fashion studies major, also favored Cruz for Senate and incumbent Republican Greg Abbott for governor.

“I focused on what the candidates stand for, promise and which aligned best with my values,” she explained.

But Swindle and Culpepper said they will support O’Rourke.

“A lot of his political beliefs align with my own,” Culpepper said.

“Beto is the one I’m most interested in,” Swindle said. “He wants to make Texas more Democratic, essentially.”

Issues of interest to Tarleton students are the right to bear arms, also known as the Second Amendment, as well as health care and immigration.

“The Second Amendment drives a lot of my decisions because it’s a citizen’s right to bear arms,” Torres said. “The affordable Obama care is not something that I like.”

Immigration, a big issue for a border state like Texas, also concerned him.

“Border laws being affected is a big deal,” Torres said.

If the election doesn’t turn out the way they had hoped, students said they would take it in stride.

“Even if it doesn’t go the way I want it to go, I want the winner to take it seriously and do a good job,” Setzler said.

Swindle concluded, “It’s still power to the people. It still influences how our lives are.”

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