Interview with Zoe Nanson, President of TX Votes

Krista Gehlhausen

Interview with Zoe Nanson, President of TX Votes and International Relations and Global Studies/French major.

TX Votes is a non-partisan, non-advocacy student organization, sponsored by the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life, which seeks to support voter registration, education, and mobilization on campus.

Tell me about what TX Votes does on campus.

“TX Votes is a completely non-partisan, non-advocacy civic engagement organization on campus, run by students, for students. We don’t tell anyone who to vote for, what to vote for, just that they should vote. A lot of work focuses on voter registration and voter education so it’s a lot of boots on the ground, being in classrooms talking about what’s going on, registering people to vote. We encourage them to go do the same thing if they’re able to become a VDR [volunteer deputy registrar] and register their friends. We also do a lot of tabling and telling students, “Hey, there’s an election, here’s where you can vote and what’s on the ballot, please go vote.”

Why should UT students care about voting?

“I think everybody should care about voting because, particularly for younger people, this is one of the most effective and one of our only ways to make our voice heard. It's not the only way but it's one of the simplest and fastest ways to do that and it's hopefully very accessible for people and requires lower commitment than some other ways of getting civically engaged.”

What’s your first civic memory?

“I’ve always kept up with politics and had the news on since I was really little. When I got into high school, from the start of my freshman year, I was doing nonpartisan debate where it was more just a matter of being up to date with stuff and discussing it, even if we didn’t have any profound conclusions.

But as far as voting goes, I remember, I was a senior in high school. For this organization I was in, we ran a voter registration drive which was really fun because I could not vote at the time. I had never registered to vote, but I was like ‘We’re going to get people registered to vote!’ like only four people in my grade were old enough at that time. It’s always fun to be there when a person registers to vote for the first time, just because they’re like, “Oh I’ve never done this before.”

Would you say non-partisanship is important to you?

“Very much. I think that’s part of why TX Votes is so effective. People have always been partisan and divided, but it’s really nice to have a source of information and people you can go to and say, ‘I just need factual information and I want to be able to trust the source that it comes from,’ and so non-partisanship is one of the ways that you can do that and ensure anyone that walks up to you that you’re going to give them trusted information and keep your bias out of it.”

What’s your favorite part about being in TX Votes?

“The people. It’s so fun, the work is awesome and super fulfilling, but to get to do that with a bunch of people that you hang out with all the time and stay out until midnight with, that’s a good time.”

How did you get involved with TX Votes as a UT student?

“The organization I was in in high school, JSA [Junior State of America]. A lot of the people who were in that who came to UT ended up involved in TX Votes. A former president of TX Votes, Maya Patel, I knew her in high school through that organization. There was one person in particular that said, ‘I think this would be right up your alley,’ and then I saw them during tabling and we chatted for a few minutes and I was like ‘Yep I'm in!’ And the rest was history.”

What advice do you have for anyone wanting to be more civically engaged as a college student?

“For starters, just finding any small steps like making yourself knowledgeable about what’s going on, even if it’s just reading your local news more. Obviously, joining organizations that align with what you want to do, whether that’s something that’s partisan or completely non-partisan, just finding other people who are doing the same thing and can help you figure out what your next steps are. I think reaching out to other people directly and encouraging them to be civically engaged is one of the best ways to increase the number of people that are simply engaged.”

Tell me about what you’re studying at UT and your favorite classes that you’ve taken.

“I am an International Relations and French major, with a minor in Philosophy of Law. Some of my favorite classes have been the philosophy ones. I just really like philosophy and existential crises. I took a French cuisine class that was probably my favorite French class because it was also online, so there was no actual cooking involved, even though that was the whole point of the class. It’s just interesting to read about wine and bread for a while.”

What’s your favorite TX Votes memory?

“There’s a lot of times off the clock where we’ll have a meeting, and then a few of us will just end up staying for a couple hours afterward, just to talk and hang out and do stuff like that. Anytime a TX Votes event devolves into everyone hanging out and having a good time and laughing is always super fun.

Freshman year, we had a Last Day to Register to Vote that everyone still talks about, which is when the Hamilton craze was still in full swing. There were giant speakers blasting it, there were people dressed up in patriotic costumes, it was really chaotic and fun.

Also waking up at 5:30 in the morning to go to Moov-In this year was surprisingly fun. I saw the sunrise in Austin for the first time, met everyone in person after being online for COVID, it was a cool time.”

What goals do you have for TX Votes in the future?

“I obviously want to grow our membership. I think we’ve done a really good job of trying to take on as much as possible, we will try to make it into every professor’s classroom that asked us. We try to table on every major voting holiday and during every election, but I think, increasing the number of people, we have to not only prolong the longevity of the organization and encourage more people to get involved, but that helps us tackle more.”