Ralph Domas (right) registers Czarina Pilar to vote at the drive-up voter registration at the Pearl, hosted by League of Women Voters of the San Antonio Area. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Civic organizations paraded through Southeast San Antonio on Tuesday, hoping to catch the eye of voting-eligible but unregistered Bexar County residents. The parade was just one of many events that took place Tuesday as part of National Voter Registration Day.

First observed in 2012, the day focuses on increasing the number of people registered to vote in the U.S. Since then, the combined efforts by registrars all over the country have led to nearly 3 million voters registered on National Voter Registration Day. 

The local chapter of the League of Women Voters partnered with the Pearl to host a drive-up voter registration event Tuesday evening. Elizabeth Wood-Hull, vice president of public relations and community outreach, said getting people registered to vote is part of the league’s mission.

“We mostly try and get people the information they need to be able to go to the polls with confidence because they have a hard time finding election information. So, we’re here to provide that for them, along with getting them registered,” Wood-Hull said.

The league has partnered with the Pearl before to set up voter registration booths at farmers markets but had not been able to have another since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It was very frustrating and discouraging to feel as though it wasn’t safe for the volunteers or for the voters to be out doing this – and certainly not indoors,” Wood-Hull said. “People deserve to be able to register; they deserve to be able to vote if they’re eligible. There’s no online voter registration in Texas. So in a pandemic, that makes things really difficult.”

Further down Broadway Street, the San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum held a voter registration drive from morning to evening, aiming to get nearby students and community members registered to vote.

Antoinette Lakey, museum volunteer, was one of the Bexar County deputy registrars getting people registered. Lakey said it was important for minorities to exercise their right to vote, especially at the local level.

San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum (SAAACAM) hosts a voter registration drive. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

“As a minority, it’s important that we get out and get our voices heard,” Lakey said. “A lot of people believe that our voices do not matter and they do. They are some of the most important voices. Those decisions that they’re making at the national level are going to come down to us.”

This was the first voter registration event in Bexar County for Austin resident Erin Dempsey. A San Antonio native, Dempsey wanted to help people in her hometown register, so she came down from Austin to get sworn in as a deputy registrar.

“I think we all just want people to have their voices heard and registering in Texas can be difficult,” Dempsey said. “So if you have someone kind of looking over your shoulder, helping you, and offering to take your form down [to the Voter Registration Office], I think it is nothing but positive.”

Two local nonprofits centered on serving Indigenous communities, American Indians in Texas and CARE Team SA, partnered to host San Antonio’s first Native Get Out the Vote parade where the organizations drove vehicles down neighborhoods in the Southeast area informing the community about National Voter Registration Day.

American Indians in Texas and CARE Team SA partnered to host San Antonio’s first Native Get Out the Vote parade. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

“The goal of the parade was to be able to make sure that everyone knew that it was National Voter Registration Day, and that it’s incredibly important for everyone to register to vote,” said Carla Aguilar, development director of American Indians in Texas. “This is not an election for people to [let up]. Everyone has to find a way to the ballot box this November or early.”

The organization handed out bags filled with voter information cards such as a checklist of things to remember to take to the polls and a number to call in case voters have issues at the polls. Aguilar said the bags also included information on how to get involved in the organization’s Urban Indian SA initiative aimed at uplifting the Native American community.

“San Antonio has a population of nearly [20,000] Native Americans, according to the census, but it’s largely invisible,” Aguilar said. “If we’re invisible to the politicians, then it does us no good. So we’re trying to bring issues like that to the surface and initiating our voter engagement strategy.”

Samantha Ruvalcaba, who grew up in San Antonio, is a Shiner intern and junior at St. Mary's University studying international and global studies with a minor in communications.