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Civic groups to hold voter education sessions in Spanish

September 16, 2018

It’s no secret that Cameron County routinely sees dismal voter turnout. Three local organizations are teaming up to address it by offering a voter education series at the Brownsville Public Library Southmost Branch starting Tuesday.

“La Southmost Sale a Votar” will be made up of four sessions hosted in Spanish by The Texas Freedom Network, Frontera Progressives and the League of Women Voters Rio Grande Valley. The topics covered will include why voting is important, what office holders’ duties are, how to find information about candidates and what it’s like to vote.

Cameron County had 186,741 registered voters in the Nov. 4, 2014, general election, according to a Cameron County Elections and Voter Registration Department report. The total voter turnout was less than 22 percent.

“We all have the same goal, which is not only to have voters turn out but to feel confident about voting,” said Ofelia Alonzo, regional coordinator for the progressive civic engagement group Texas Freedom Network/Texas Rising in the Rio Grande Valley and El Paso. “I think a lot of times, we start the conversation assuming people already know most of it, and we don’t talk about it from the beginning.”

She said Southmost was selected because the area tends to have especially low voter turnout and lacks resources, particularly in Spanish, where residents can learn about the voting process. Alonzo’s experience canvassing in Southmost taught her that people there feel intimidated by finding out where to vote or what the process is once they get to the polls.

"It is a safe space where they can ask questions and feel safe about asking things they don’t know,” she said of “La Southmost Sale a Votar.” “It’s going to be a place where we can learn together, and hopefully everyone in the community can learn to use their voice.”

The sessions are non-partisan, she added, and political platforms will be described as candidates’ have presented them.

Mark Kaswan, associate political science professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, of Frontera Progressives said part of the goal is to engage people who aren’t typically sought after by political parties.

Democrats and Republicans focus on turnout out people who are most likely to vote, so no one is paying attention to people who are eligible or registered to vote but don’t,” he said.

Kaswan said some of the barriers those residents face is they don’t know how the voting process works, believe their votes don’t count or don’t know where to find information on voting.

“I think what we’d like for people to feel is a sense of empowerment, that their vote does matter and they can make a difference, he said.

The organizations will provide snacks and raffle two H-E-B gift cards at each session. A grand prize raffle will be held at the last session.

Session topics are:

>> Tuesday: Why vote?

>> Sept. 25: What it means to elect someone – and what elected officials do

>> Oct. 2: How to get information about elections and candidates

>> Oct. 9: Find out what it’s really like to vote, and how your ballot gets counted

All sessions will be held 7-9 p.m. at 4329 Southmost Road, Brownsville.

Get more information by contacting Alonzo at ofelia@tfn.org or at the event page on facebook.com/frontera.progressives.

nadia@brownsvilleherald.com

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