BROWNSVILLE, Texas (Border Report) — They came for the free lunch plates of chicken and rice but left signed up to vote.
Catholic nun Liz Sjoberg, with her persuasive smile and fluent Spanish, waved down motorists in the border town of Brownsville and invited them to a free meal and the opportunity to register to vote on Election Day in November.
About 150 people drove through the parking lot of Proyecto Juan Diego on Tuesday, which was National Voter Registration Day. It marked 42 days before the Nov. 3 presidential, state, and local elections, and signals that time is running out to register for those who want to participate in upcoming elections. The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 5.
“We want people to be able to register to vote so they can use their vote for good, no matter who they vote for, we’re non-partisan here. We just care that they vote. Those who are eligible can register to vote today and even if they don’t, we’re giving them free food anyway. We have a lot of suffering people in the area and we hope to serve the community in this way,” said Sjoberg as she waved a hand-made sign reading “pollo gratis” (free chicken) on a busy downtown road.
Proyecto Juan Diego Executive Director Danielle Salgado said it’s important for residents in South Texas, which has a majority Hispanic population that is predominantly low-income, to have their voices heard through their elected representatives.
“We know that this election in November is very important and our community needs to be heard and so we are hoping to register as many new-time voters as possible,” said Salgado as she oversaw a dozen volunteers giving out plastic foam plates full of mashed potatoes, Spanish rice and baked chicken on Tuesday.
“Registering to vote allows us to elect people who will bring the voice of the Rio Grande Valley back to Washington, and to our state and local governments to help with funding, with community services that are very much needed in the community,” Salgado said. “So it’s really very important that everyone who is registered to vote actually does go vote and that everyone who is eligible to vote gets registered.”
A line of cars waited patiently but were in the drive-thru registration within minutes, even during a rush of vehicles that came after Salgado was featured on a noon Facebook Live event sponsored by the nonprofits RGV Equal Voice Network, Arise, La Union Del Pueblo Entero (LUPE,) and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.
“Today is National Voter Registration Day and we are very excited to be talking to you all today regarding the importance of registering to vote and participating for this very historic next election,” said Michelle Serrano, of the Equal Voice Network.
“This is a historic election but particularly for our community in this corner of Texas because not only is the vote about a federal election, but also a number of state positions,” said Michael Seifert, border strategist for the ACLU of Texas. “This community cares deeply about the future of our child, housing opportunity, access to Medicare. So many things deeply depend on how our voices are heard in Austin and Washington, D.C., and the very first step is to vote.”
So many things deeply depend on how our voices are heard in Austin and Washington, D.C., and the very first step is to vote.”Michael Seifert, border strategist for the ACLU of Texas
Among issues of particular importance to this border region are Internet capabilities to connect low-income students during this pandemic and increased remote instruction; housing grants and opportunities; border commerce and trade; and immigration policies.
“An active and engaged citizenry plays an essential role in ensuring the continued well-being of our democracy,” Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs said on Tuesday. “Ahead of the November election, I encourage all eligible Texans who have not already done so to register to vote by October 5th so that they can help shape the future of the Lone Star State.”
Hughes said as of this month, there are 16,617,436 registered voters in Texas — a new state record.
Texans can check their registration status on the Texas Secretary of State’s website on the “Am I Registered?” page. Voter registration packets can be printed here. For more information, go to votetexas.gov.
Early voting begins Tuesday, Oct. 13 and runs through Friday, Oct. 30. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3.