956 Voters Deserve Better

Words by Roseangela Hartford 

Edited by Abigail Vela

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of any entities they represent.

 

Definitions of voting echoing collective decision-making and democracy mean nothing if the voting process is not equitable and accessible. Language barriers, confusing voting laws, multiple elections every year, stringent ID requirements, a lack of public transportation, a differential approach to civic engagement across school districts, and misinformation about the voting process impact residents of the Rio Grande Valley differently. Working on a local campaign aiming to increase youth voter turnout, I have experienced firsthand what voter suppression looks like even before an eligible voter is registered. 

Posing, second from right, with first-time voters and fellow volunteers following an educational presentation.

Walking into a high school to register eligible seniors and provide civic engagement education looks different on every campus. Some administrators and educators are passionate about empowering their students to further cultivate their voice and power through the voting process. On the other hand, some campuses don’t consider voter education relevant, considering their school campus ranking and funding have an interdependent relationship with STAAR test scores as a metric for academic achievement. Some campuses don’t believe their students have the capacity to be civic leaders because of their achievement gaps, or worse, purposefully do not want the voices of their students included in the electoral process. 

While it may not be immediately recognizable, a relationship exists between classroom size and school police presence. Access to the arts, professional development, financial literacy, and meaningful civic engagement opportunities are not universal priorities throughout Rio Grande Valley school districts. The same goes for voter registration, voter education, and a sense of empowerment to utilize one’s voice to fight against systemic oppression.

First-time voters posing with voter registration and stickers representing the 956.

For centuries, voting was used to oppress and silence Black, brown, and indigenous people. Even in the 2022 November midterms, only 34 percent of registered Hidalgo County voters turned out to vote. This doesn’t even include the more than 150,000 eligible voters that aren’t yet registered. With 270,000 Texans turning 18 every year, it is evident that youth voters are the future decision-makers and determinants of what the world will look like for generations to come. 

 

It isn’t just the school system that fails would-be voters. The U.S. response to issues harming our community has also fueled apathy, jadedness, and an overall knee-jerk reaction to separate oneself from everything reinforcing nationalism, i.e., voting. The narrative of voting as a civic duty rooted in national pride no longer resonates with all voters across the country because, ultimately, the U.S. as it stands today does not represent all interests that make up our country. And yet, that is the exact reason why it is integral that individuals who feel ignored within the U.S. government system embolden their voice and power through voting.

Sticker design I created representing regional pride around trucking and voting power.

Cultural relevance, social justice, and uplifting the identities of voters that may otherwise be invisible to the current Texas and national political landscape are required to solve the puzzle of low voter turnout. Taglines like “Trokiando Votando” and “Puro 956 Voter” may seem trivial to answer the deeper questions as to why RGV folks aren’t voting, but it begs the question as to why voting is not associated with loving your community. Voting is a radical act of love for everything that makes the Rio Grande Valley our home. With the understanding that our undocumented neighbors and loved ones cannot vote, I feel more compelled to vote in support of policies that uplift human rights and climate justice than ever before.

 

For me, voting elicits a sense of dread and simultaneous hope for the change and representation the 956 deserves. With Hidalgo County ranking 8th lowest in voter turnout out of 254 counties in the state of Texas as of the November 2022 midterms, it is no surprise that elected officials continue to ignore, disenfranchise, and militarize our community for the purposes of fueling capitalism, racism, and xenophobia. Moreover, the open invitation for biodiversity and natural resources to be disregarded in the decision-making surrounding the expansion of dangerous projects such as SpaceX would be revoked if our local democracy was active and thriving. Our community deserves better. It is time to think of voting as an accountability mechanism to remind our elected officials they work for us. Very literally, voting is the final interview that determines whether an elected official keeps their job or not. It is time to regain our local power and relevance one vote at a time. While the rhetoric of participating in Presidential elections is the way we track how our democracy functions, I beg to differ. Through local and state elections, we genuinely see if neighbors and community members on the ballot are representing our interests and concerns. 

Our spring elections will be groundbreaking on critical positions such as mayors and school board members. With anti-trans legislative bills filling up our feeds and igniting panic and a sense of hopelessness, I challenge you to think about how those issues will impact trans students in the RGV. Even if those bills never come to life in our state, school board members have the power to determine textbooks, spending priorities, and school calendar schedules, as well as give direct oversight accountability to superintendents and district leaders on discipline, safety, supplies, classroom resources, facilities, and other issues. And just like the President, these school board members will hold their position for four years. This will impact generations of how students view themselves, their classmates, and the world around them. Every election will affect how our community functions and, thus, impact our world. 

May 6th, 2023, elections will look wildly different based on where you live. Nonetheless, ensuring that all loved ones, friends, family, and colleagues are registered and enthusiastic about voting for representatives that reflect their values is one step you can take regardless of if your community is hosting an election.

Speaking on Texas youth voter turnout rates and how it relates to Hidalgo County turnout rates.

 As a preview of what to look out for on the ballot, some communities will vote for mayors, city council members, commissioners, school board members, and aldermen. I recommend looking to local organizations that have a grasp on how those positions will impact our community and ensure you have an updated ID, transportation, and voter information, such as through Texas Turnout

 

Moreover, if you are someone like me who doesn’t have the time or capacity to research all candidates or what their positions accomplish, ActiVote provides personalized voter plans and information surrounding your elections, current representatives’ work history, or belief systems based on factual voting history of individuals up for reelection. 

 

In a world where we are overwhelmed and overstimulated with information that is out of our control, remember that your voting power is something within your control. Vote by vote, 956 voters can begin to initiate change that represents the needs of our community. 

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