LUBBOCK, Texas — Hundreds of Texas Tech students turned out for Beto O’Rourke’s Lubbock stop on his “Beto for Texas College Tour” on Tuesday. This stop was the latest stint in his campaign for governor that places a deliberate focus on Texas’ growing bloc of young voters.

“You helped to do something absolutely exceptional and transformative in Texas political history,” O’Rourke told a crowd of up to 850 Texas Tech students, referring to 2018’s surge of young voters. “Together, we produced the largest voter turnout in a midterm election since 1970. No pressure, Lubbock, but the fate of Texas hinges on what you decide today.”

Youth voter turnout surged following the 2018 midterm election between O’Rourke and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Between 2018 and 2020, Texas added more than 300,000 voters under 24 years old. Still, that demographic only made up 9 percent of Texas voters in 2020, and only 43 percent of Texans aged 18-24 turned out at all.

The students at O’Rourke’s rally inside the Frazier Alumni Pavilion said they are set on increasing those numbers. They did not all agree on policy or even their preference for governor, but they did agree on one thing — their vote matters.

“We really underestimate the power of our students and what their votes do,” said Christianah Adejokun, President of Texas Tech University Black Student Association.

This demographic usually isn’t the demographic to vote for a blue candidate,” another student said. “Usually they’re hidden in the shadows, but I think Beto is really bringing everyone together to make change.”

Chaz Kennedy, a Texas Tech senior and volunteer for the Greg Abbott campaign, showed up in an “Abbott for Governor” shirt. He said young political engagement extends beyond party.

“I don’t agree with Beto personally, I think he’s a terrible politician, but I want to hear what he has to say so I can become better educated myself,” Kennedy said.

O’Rourke criticized voting laws passed in Senate Bill 1 under Gov. Abbott last year, claiming they make it more difficult for college students to vote. Last week, Lubbock County Elections Administrator Roxzine Stinson said up to 18 percent of mail-in ballots have been returned this year because they do not fulfill new requirements under the new law. O’Rourke said he will work to make voting easier for young voters.

“To have an 18 percent rejection rate here, 13 percent on average statewide, is unacceptable for any state that wants to call itself a democracy. Let’s make sure that we make common sense reforms going forward,” O’Rourke said. “Online voter registration where a student can update their voter registration online is a great place to start — removing some of those barriers that disproportionately target young people and those with disabilities from voting. We know why they are doing this; they are trying to keep these young people from voting. Let’s make sure we open the doors to them.”