When Victoria Faz registered to vote, no political party operative ushered her there. No governmental public service announcement prodded her, and neither a candidate nor a campaign signed her up on her 18th birthday.
Watching the junior senator from Illinois address the Democratic National Convention in 2004 did make an impression, but the 20-year-old political science major at UTSA was motivated most by another reason. “I wanted to do it for me,” the San Antonian said.
She’s a rarity in a state with dubious voter registration and turnout rates and one that political scientists view as dependent on largely ineffective ways to get voters registered and to the polls.
Yet as political parties, national candidates, elections officials and nonprofit groups gear up for the 2012 election cycle, it appears the two major political parties in Bexar County will employ the usual means to rev up voters. They’ll block walk and phone bank, methods political scientists deem unlikely to kick Texas out of the bottom 10 states in voter participation.
Political parties are guilty of focusing solely on getting their bases to the polls, not building the population that votes, said Richard Gambitta from the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Nonprofit groups will step in to help, but their efforts are also viewed as small and only moderately successful.
On Saturday, the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project announced its 2012 goal of raising Latino voting in Texas to 2 million from the 1.7 million who voted in the last presidential election, according to its own polling.
Like other groups, SVREP sets up at community events to engage nonvoters. After registering new ones, it puts them in a phone database.
“Our niche has always been to contact new voters and help that voter become a high-propensity voter,” SVREP Vice President Lydia Camarillo said.
“We believe that there will be 300,000 new voters compared to ’08, which would be the highest increase in Texas history,” she said.
Altogether, Latinos 18 and over represent a potential voting bloc of 6.1 million in Texas that has still to exercise its power.
Political science Professor Cal Jillson of Southern Methodist University thinks SVREP’s goal is unrealistic.
“Only 1.2 million Latinos cast votes in the 2008 presidential election in Texas. Two million votes cast in 2012 is a very ambitious target, more likely to inspire voter registration workers than actually to be met,” he said.
“Our whole problem is messaging,” said Verna Blackwell Hilario, a grassroots activist and longtime Democrat Party precinct chair. “I talk to senior citizens about voting, and they say, ‘ Yo no voy a votar. No vale, como quiera estamos igual.’”
Translation: “I’m not going to vote. It’s doesn’t matter. Everything stays the same anyhow.”
“They need to get a message about what’s going to affect them,” she said, noting Social Security and Medicare as hot-button issues.
“People aren’t apt to vote if we just talk about the economy in general. It’s not going to get them out.
“Nobody is educating them,” she said.
UTSA’s Patricia Jaramillo said field studies show other means beyond block walking and phone banking can bring out voters.
In an experiment in Michigan by Yale University and the University of Northern Iowa, researchers increased voter participation by publishing names of actual voters in mass mailings. The study incited feelings of shame (for not being on the list) or pride (for being included).
“It’s one thing to tell everyone that you voted, but no one will know,” Jaramillo said. “What if they really know?”
Full Article: Vote efforts seen as not enough – San Antonio Express-News.