BY Oscar Castillo | NEWS EDITOR
For some students, the Nov. 8 presidential election will be the first in which they participate, and the first step they need to take is register to vote.
Vaqueros Vote, a nonpartisan coalition of UTRGV faculty, staff, students and nonpartisan community organizations that aims to institutionalize civic engagement as part of the culture, will conduct voter registration until Oct. 11, the last day to register.
To register, students must be at least 17 years and 10 months, but 18 to vote. They also must be U.S. citizens and a resident of the jurisdiction in which they are registering.
Voters must provide one of the following forms of photo identification in order to vote: a driver’s license; personal identification card; U.S. military identification card; U.S. citizenship certificate or U.S. naturalization that contains a photograph; U.S. passport; or a license to carry a concealed handgun.
“The State of Texas does require, if you have a driver’s license or any of the other six forms of ID that are acceptable, you need to present those to vote, but if you don’t or you have a reasonable impediment to obtaining one of those IDs, you can use different items such as paychecks, other federal documents, a utility bill,” said Remi Garza, Cameron County elections administrator.
“There’s a series of different items you can use and you also have to fill out an affidavit stating that you can’t obtain one of the seven.”
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals approved an interim remedy, which would allow voters to use photo identification forms that are expired for up to four years, according to a news release from the Hidalgo County Elections department.
The remedy was drawn up following a federal lawsuit challenging SB 14, Texas’ strict photo voter ID law, filed by Brennan Center, Lawyers’ Committee and co-counsel on behalf of the Texas State Conference of the NAACP and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives, according to the Brennan Center’s website.
“In addition, if a voter is not able to obtain one of the seven forms of photo ID, and has a reasonable impediment to obtaining them, the voter may vote by (1) signing a Reasonable Impediment Declaration, and (2) providing one of following various forms of supporting documentation; a certified birth certificate (must be an original); a valid voter registration certificate; or a copy or original of one of the following: a current utility bill; a bank statement,” the release states.
A voter must fill out the Reasonable Impediment Declaration at a polling site and state the reason for the impediment. Some reasons include lack of transportation, lack of birth certificate or items needed to obtain an ID.
Voters may also use original government checks or government documents that show their name and address.
Veronica De La Garza, UTRGV’s State and Local Government Relations director, said six out of 10 people vote in Texas but in the Rio Grande Valley, it’s only four out of 10.
With about 192,000 registered voters in Cameron County this year, the goal is to surpass the record high of 72,000 voters who turned out for the 2008 presidential election.
“There’s a lot of interest in this race and these two candidates, so I think we’re really going to see some activity,” Garza said. “Plus, other jurisdictions have brought their election into November, like BISD and some of the city and other school board races, because even those can generate extra activity on top of the presidential. So, I think, yeah, we’re going to be very close to that 2008 figure.”
The voter turnout in 2012 for Cameron County was 41.47 percent and 45.60 percent in Hidalgo County, according to the Texas Secretary of State website.
“In November of 2012, not only did we have the presidential election, we also had several cities and school elections, so that applies for this election also,” said Belinda Sagredo, Hidalgo County’s voter registrar manager. “We also have that health district that is also running. So, we do expect a big turnout for this upcoming election.”
As of last Wednesday, there are more than 330,500 registered voters in Hidalgo County.
“The [voter] turnout among employees at [UT Brownsville] was 40 percent. … For students, we were at 22.57, and then at [UT Pan American], among students we were at 27.89; this is the last presidential election cycle,” De La Garza said about the 2012 election. “The employees at UTPA were at 50 percent.”
She said students and student organizations are invited to attend their weekly meetings at 2 p.m. Fridays in the Cueto Conference Room in Brownsville and in the Office of Environmental Relations Conference Room in Edinburg.
The meetings will alternate weekly between both campuses. Students interested may contact De La Garza at 665-7373 or email at Veronica.DeLaGarza@UTRGV.edu. This Friday’s meeting will take place in Brownsville.
In observance of National Voter Registration Day, Vaqueros Vote will conduct registration between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Sept. 27 on the Chapel Lawn in Edinburg and the Student Union lawn in Brownsville.
Vaqueros Vote registration days will also take place at the same time on Oct. 4, 6 and 11.
For students, faculty or staff interested in helping the community register to vote, a deputy training will be conducted from 12:15 to 1 p.m. Tuesday in Edinburg’s Cenizo room. Another training will take place from 12:25 to 1 p.m. Wednesday in PlainsCapital Bank El Gran Salón in Brownsville. Refreshments will be served.
Early voting will begin Oct. 24 and end Nov. 4.