by Adrian Aguilar

Young People Aren't Letting Texas's Restrictive Voting Laws Stop Them From Being Heard

Raven Douglas of MOVE Texas is a recipient of the 2019 MTV Leaders for Change grant

By Lauren Rearick

Registering to vote can be difficult, and the hurdles are just as big in Texas. Studies, data, and headlines consistently prove that Texas is among the top five most difficult states for voter registration, which is due in part to the state’s decision to not permit online voter registration, and a registration deadline that requires someone to register 28 days prior to an election. And when it comes to showing up on election day, Texas residents have experienced difficulties including extended waiting at polls and continued closures of polling locations.

MOVE Texas, a youth-led nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, wants to change all of that, especially when it comes to youth voters.

According to Raven Douglas, deputy director for MOVE Texas and a recipient of the 2019 MTV Leaders for Change grant, the state’s strict voter registration laws and poor voting experience have had a direct impact on youth voter access. Critical decisions are made in the ballot box, and MOVE Texas wants citizens to recognize the importance of turning out, and make the process of voting a lot easier for Texan residents. ”Young people, especially in Texas — they're black or brown, and engaging them and turning them out to vote may possibly impact the future of elections going forward,” Douglas said.

Changing the future political landscape for the youngest of Texas’s voters is just all in a day’s work for MOVE Texas. During a recent phone interview, Douglas talked to MTV News about the  group’s efforts to educate young voters through local voter registration opportunities, their work to develop leadership programs geared toward educating and training future civic leaders, and how the group’s newly-secured MTV’s Leaders for Change grant could help the group accomplish its largest goal yet.

by Casey Chapman Ross

MTV News: To start, how do you interpret the MOVE Texas mission?

Raven Douglas of MOVE Texas: MOVE is an acronym. It stands for mobilize, organize, vote, and empower. We are a grassroots nonpartisan, non-profit organization that’s building power in underrepresented youth communities through civic education, leadership development, and issue advocacy. We get people under the age of 35 registered to vote. We connect them to issues that are important to them, and then we show them how those issues can be impacted through voting and elections.

We often say that Texas is not a red state or a blue state, Texas is a nonvoting state. When you look at campaigns, young people don’t have a propensity for voting, and we’re left out of the conversation. It’s really important that we go out and register new voters and young voters, and make sure that they have a voice when it comes to not only federal politics, but especially local politics.

We have a staff of 18, and all of us except for our executive director, are under the age of 26. MOVE Texas shows that by empowering young people to do this work, we can run an organization. I love the fact that at MOVE, everybody that I work with is young and incredibly diverse. We're ensuring that young people have a seat at the table.

MTV News: Why do you feel that it's important for young Texan voters to be involved in voting not just for presidential candidates, but also local candidates?

Douglas: Texas has one of the highest rates of uninsured children and people; a quarter of Texans don't have insurance. In San Antonio, young people under the age of 35 have the highest rate of student loan debt. And as a state, we have immigration issues. Texas is one of the most difficult states to get registered to vote and to turn out to vote in. It’s really important that we are working every day to change those systems. Whether it be healthcare, student loan debt, or immigration — a lot of these issues can be impacted by voting.

A lot of times, young people don’t see how the president’s decisions are affecting their everyday life, but when you look at hyperlocal issues, you can see how closely races can be impacted on a local level.

MTV News: What are some of the things that you worked on in the past that you believe really made an impact? And what are you working on in the future, especially with the upcoming presidential election?

Douglas: MOVE Texas was once MOVE San Antonio. We went statewide about a year ago and we’re really excited to see what our work statewide will look like. We've already seen in the 2018 election, for example, in Austin where we do work, that people under the age of 35 voted more. And in the 2015 San Antonio municipal election for city council and mayor, millennial voter turnout increased by 300 percent. It showed that engaging young people and registering them to vote does work.

When we were the San Antonio base, we were involved in securing funding for police body cameras, we worked to get some Confederate monuments in the city removed, and we worked on our parade ordinance, which means it’s now free to march in the streets and fight for whatever you want to.

We just launched our Democracy from the Ground Up Campaign. The purpose of this campaign is to get more progressive access to voting, and whether that extends to voting on college campuses or voter registration, we’re working to bring state issues to a local level. We are working with county commissioners in Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston to pass aggressive voting rights. We’re ensuring that libraries have voter registration and that every college campus in those counties has a polling sites during major elections. Ultimately, the big goal is passing automatic voter registration at the county level.

MTV News: Why do you believe that young voters should be proactive in educating themselves on issues of political importance and in voting?

Douglas: MOVE Texas shows people how closely elections are won at the local level. Do you feel that tuition is too high at your school? That's a state issue, and it's really important to make sure you're voting for your governor and your state representatives. We’re localizing the issues so that voters can see how their everyday lives can be impacted.

MTV News: How would securing this grant from MTV help MOVE Texas accomplish those goals and its goals for the future?

Douglas: The funds we would receive through Leaders for Change would help us register more voters. Last year, we registered 30,000 young people to vote, and 68 percent of those people turned out to vote. This year, we're planning to register 30,000 people, and then next year, our plan is to expand, grow massively, and register 70,000 people across the state. The funds that we received through Leaders of Change would help us register young people and continue to grow our infrastructure so we can reach more young people across Texas.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Leaders for Change is an MTV grant program that invests in young people doing extraordinary work at the local level to advance voting access. From getting polling places on college campuses across Michigan to registering voters in Chicago jails to providing rides to the polls in Georgia, these young leaders are breaking down the barriers that make it hard to vote in their communities.