Voting is not just your right as a citizen – if you don’t vote, you lose the right to complain! This was the message shared by the AACT Board of Directors to their media and community partners at the Sept. 1 debut of their 2016 ad campaign. Alonzo Cantu, CEO of Cantu Construction, opened the doors of his Edinburg ranch to co-host the viewing party and unveiling of the AACT’s new website intended to encourage voter participation. “People need to get involved instead of just complaining,” said Cantu. “AACT is non-partisan, so they don’t tell people how to vote – we just want them to vote!”
AACT has been successful in encouraging the public to make it to the polling booth because of this non-partisan nature. “We want to encourage everyone to register, get informed, and be ready to vote,” said Nicole Jasso Leal, Executive Project Coordinator, Border Health PAC.
Community leaders, small business owners, media partners and involved citizens invited to the event learned more about AACT’s mission and how they can help share the information that potential voters need to know. Congressman Filemon Vela Jr. (D–TX 34th District), said it is vital to educate the community about utilizing their right to vote. “AACT has been a crucial player in efforts to change the trajectory of traditionally low voter turnout in the Valley,” said Vela, “especially in presidential elections.”
The locally-produced commercials presented by the AACT are one of many methods they use to increase the RGV’s voter turnout. The media’s role in the effort involves raising community awareness, either by sharing the commercials or segments about voting of their own. Julie Chavez, media consultant at Entravision, saw the need for community outreach firsthand when she worked for election departments in the past. “I saw again and again that a lot of people don’t know that you have to be registered to vote before the election,” said Chavez. “We need to push that information.”
Tom Torkelson, Founder and CEO of IDEA public schools, said civic engagement needs to become a habit, and our young people can help change our region by using their rights. “If young people start voting, and bring that enthusiasm into the workplace, we develop a culture of voting,” said Torkelson, “and a culture of change.”
Veronica Cantu, Vice President for Governmental and Community Relations at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, said UTRGV is participating with AACT through their Vaqueros Vote initiative to get students, faculty, and staff involved. “Regardless of your age, gender, ethnicity or economic status, everyone has equal power to express their opinion via a vote. We can’t allow this right to be wasted!” The University, which has campuses Valley-wide, also hosted polling locations for early voting in the primaries.
Rio Bravo Pictures used humor to develop the commercials. Scenes highlight the frustration of listening to a friend rant about the problems in the government – to find out that they don’t participate in the governmental process at all! By not voting, they are giving up their voice, and the strong opinions they hold will never be heard.
“We’re hoping to make voting accessible to the millennials, because our demographic in the Rio Grande Valley is young. We want to inspire them to participate, so we’re taking a comedic approach,” said Rodrigo Rodriguez, director of the commercials at Rio Bravo Pictures. The AACT shared the two 30-second videos in both spanish and english with all the media partners to debut not just Valley-wide, but across Texas and potentially further as they will be shared with Voto Latino, the largest nationwide nonprofit dedicated to engaging the Latino vote. Local talent like actor Juan Cantu volunteered their time working on the commercials, “It’s exciting that the commercials will reach such a wide audience,” said Cantu. “And of course, I’m excited to vote in November!”
Events like this are one of AACT’s efforts to reach more people. After the viewing, Carlos Martinez, AACT Database Outreach Manager, encouraged individuals to host events of their own and shared other strategies for generating interest in voting. Martinez also recognized the leadership of the AACT Board of Directors and thanked all of their partners, such as the school districts and hospitals who help with their outreach efforts. Martinez then presented some sobering statistics about the RGV’s voter turnout: it is about one-third of that of larger Texas cities like San Antonio and Austin. “But while voter turnout is decreasing over the years in other cities, it’s gone up in the RGV,” he said. “Our goal is 65 percent – to at least match the rest of Texas. Then we’ll be noticed by our representatives.”
Albert Morales, AACT Project Coordinator, said that just because registration rates in the RGV are going up, doesn’t mean the non-profit organization can relax. “Now we’re trying to get our registered voters to participate in the election process itself,” said Moralez, “because many registered voters aren’t actually exercising their right to vote.”
This sentiment was echoed by Dr. Daniel King, Superintendent of Schools, PSJA. “Politicians know which communities get out and vote. People say, ‘the squeaky wheel gets the grease,’ well, there is no squeakier wheel than a voting population. We need to use our vote to show that we care about our area.”
To register to vote and learn more about how to help the cause, visit http://aactnow.org/http://aactnow.org/.