For more than 50 years, the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas has had some of the lowest voter turnout in the country. Traditional political campaigns have not substantially changed these voter turnout rates: even in presidential election only two of ten eligible voters participate.
A different approach to voter engagement is called for and it’s coming from the Advocacy Alliance Center of Texas (AACT). Founded in 2011, it mobilizes the civic infrastructure of the valley’s Cameron, Hildago and Starr Counties and is already showing results. In the presidential election of 2012 turnout statewide fell, but it was up in the Rio Grande Valley. It rose again in all three counties in the constitutional election in 2013.
AACT’s goal is a 65% turnout rate for South Texas’ one millions residents in presidential elections and equal increases in local and state elections.
AACT is working to improve voter registration and voter turnout in the community by educating, engaging, and empowering their citizens. AACT partners with media outlets, businesses, community organizations, schools and other groups to reach as many voters as possible without duplication.
Early strategic partnerships with media outlets made growth possible. Public service announcements reached more than one million people. New partners joined AACT from pharmacies and banks, hospitals and schools, community groups and local government.
AACT has a special focus on youth. It signed agreements with 23 local independent school districts representing to undertake “Advocating Awareness through the Collaboration of Teachers.” Getting buy-in from superintendents, the program supports a voting curriculum implemented by high school government teachers in 56 different schools. AACT registered 9,568 students last year, and another ten thousand through its other partners.
County election boards joined the effort as well, assisting with registration and even establishing mobile voting units in hard to reach areas across the valley. Because of their nonpartisanship, effective messaging can be utilized by all partners to engage diverse voters throughout the community.
AACT builds off of circles of influence, whether through the workplace, at school, or at home. For example, their Touch 10 Card encourages individuals to see if they can refer ten people to AACT to register or receive information about the election. AACT capitalizes on the fact that personal contact from someone you already know is a powerful motivator.
How does AACT compare to other efforts to civic around the country? Last year (in non-major election cycle) on National Voter Registration Day, AACT registered 1,740 voters in a single day. They ranked number one in the country among the one thousand local groups participating.
In one of the fastest growing areas of Texas, AACT is helping to improve the community of South Texas one vote at a time.