Running quickly from her dance and PE classes at Lufkin High School, 18-year-old Alyssa Nunn shifts gears from memorizing dance moves to what she has learned about politics.
Like many 18-year-olds, Nunn is excited about voting for the first time. She has a good idea about who she wants to win in the federal elections and plans to vote with her family on Nov. 3.
“Just because I know this is a big year. We’re dealing with an incumbent and there’s a new Democrat coming in,” she said. “I know there’s going to be a lot of pressure to get voters to participate.”
She’ll be living in Austin and going to the University of Texas. And while she’s not entirely sure how she’ll be able to vote, she knows it’s important to her and that she’ll make it happen.
She is one of the thousands of members of “Generation Z” who are eligible to vote in the 2020 election. One in 10 voters this year will be people between the ages of 18 and 23, a 2019 report by the Pew Research Center states.
She registered to vote in the fall of 2019 based on a recommendation and with the help of Daniel Usher, her Advanced Placement U.S. government teacher. And while she can name the contenders in the race for president, she doesn’t know anyone running in the county, school or municipal elections in 2020.
Nunn isn’t alone in this either: Data from the Angelina County Elections Administration shows that county residents are more likely to turn out for federal elections than local elections.
The scenario is the same across the United States.
FairVote, a nonpartisan, nonprofit data research organization, cited a 2013 study that said cities across the U.S. only averaged a 25.8% voter turnout for mayoral elections between 1996 and 2012.
Less than one-tenth of the voters who turned out for the general elections between 2010 and 2019 in Angelina County cast ballots in the various municipal elections.
For example, there were 28,741 voters in the 2016 presidential election, with only 1,453 of those voters casting ballots in the city or school elections that year.
The data suggest Nunn is not alone in how little she knows about local elections or the impact those elections have on her day-to-day life. Having spent most of her time learning about the impact of federal government and the importance of voting every four years, she sees the gap in her understanding about local elections.
“I’m a little clueless, but I understand that it has just as big of an impact as state and national (elections), but I’m not sure how big of an impact it has,” she said.
She specifically asked:
■ What is (the youth’s) impact on these elections?
■ How do these elections impact us?
Nunn is a member of “Generation Z,” which is comprised of people born in 1997 or later. Because of the growth in Generation Z, the millennial and older generations are losing their share of the electorate nationally, an October 2019 Pew Research Center article states.
Baby boomers, those born between the years 1946 and 1964, will account for nearly a quarter of the electorate nationwide this year. Those 56 and older will account for fewer than four in 10 voters, down from the seven in 10 voters they accounted for in 2000, the center said.
The U.S. Census Bureau said there were about 87,700 people in Angelina County in 2017.
There were 3,910 people between the ages of 15 and 17 years old — the younger half of Generation Z — making up 4.5% of the population.
There were 7,875 people between the ages of 18 and 24 years old — the older half of Generation Z — making up 9% of the population.
That means Nunn’s generation eligible to vote accounts for roughly 13.5% of potential voters in our county in this election cycle.
The Pew Research Center also said Generation Z is one of the most diverse age groups in the U.S. today. Nearly 21% are Hispanic or Latino and another 14% are African American.
The research also showed this while many in this group are politically active, they are relatively nonpartisan, with many identifying as moderates and independents.
Impact of election
Nunn said knowing there will be a direct impact on her life would pique her interest in local elections and prompt her to learn more about the candidates.
A statement on the official White House website says most Americans have more daily contact with their state and local governments than the federal government.
For example, Nunn has known Lynn Torres for years; they live in the same neighborhood. But Nunn didn’t realize Torres was her representative on the city council.
There are three contested races in this year’s March 3 Republican primary — sheriff, Precinct 1 county commissioner and Precinct 2 constable.
County, state and federal elections are all partisan and file for office with their party chairmen. City and school board elections are nonpartisan, with candidates filing for office within the city or school district.
City and school elections will be on May 2.
Of all those potential opportunities to cast a ballot, Nunn will only be able to vote for sheriff and in the school board election.
The sheriff’s race is a countywide election, while the Lufkin school board race, if there is one, will be for all registered voters living in the school district. The candidate filing period for the school election closes on Feb. 14.
Lufkin council seats up for election are Wards 5 and 6. Because she is not a resident of either ward, Nunn is not eligible to vote in those races.
The same is true about the Precinct 1 commissioner race and the Precinct 2 constable race; she doesn’t live in those precincts.
She would be able to vote in the Precinct 3 commissioner race, but incumbent Terry Pitts is running unopposed, so there will be no election.
Nunn had never heard of Pitts until recently, and while she cares about who the candidates are, she wants to understand their jobs and how much of an impact their work has on her day-to-day life.
■ In the sheriff’s race, incumbent Greg Sanches will face challengers Bryan Holley and Terry Free.
The sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer in the county. However, unlike the chief of police in cities, this position is elected.
The Angelina County website says the sheriff is in charge of operating the county jail, investigating crimes and making arrests, enforcing traffic regulations on county roads, serving writs, seizing property after a judgment has been made and ensuring that communication remains open between the county and other law enforcement organizations.
■ In the Precinct 1 commissioner’s race, incumbent Greg Harrison will face Steve Allen and John Vaughn.
A county commissioner serves as the executive and legislative branch of the county, according to the county website.
Commissioners set public policy and are in charge of managing the county’s operation. Their other duties are to build and maintain county roads, set property taxes and the budget, appoint members to regional boards (and serve on some themselves) and protect the environment.
■ In the Precinct 2 constable race, incumbent Trae Trevathan will face Danny Anders and Dennis Cochran.
A constable functions in a manner similar to a sheriff but is responsible for providing those services to the justice of the peace in their particular precinct, according to the county website. They do have full law enforcement authority, however, and can operate and assist other county law enforcement entities and the state district courts.
Cities and school boards have their own elections with multiple positions, depending on the entity, up for election this year.
All of the cities in Angelina County operate as a “council-manager” form of government, except for the city of Zavalla. A “council-manager” format means the legislative responsibilities are vested in the council and the administrative tasks are vested in the city manager.
City councils manage issues like setting a city’s tax rate, budget and city policies; appoint board members; serve on boards across the city, county and region; and determine the goals for the city.
For example, the city of Lufkin is currently working on a capital improvements plan that will detail the goals of the next five years, how much they will cost and when each project will be finished.
In addition, citizens can participate in public forums to make their thoughts and ideas heard.
The school boards function in a similar manner, but their priorities focus on the education of minors, according to the Texas Association of School Boards. While the state is the overarching body in control of education, it delegates a lot of control to individual communities to solve local community issues.
For example, the Huntington school district is proposing a bond issue to help with a number of projects in the district. Voters will have the final say when the election is held.