A coalition of organizations and nonprofits on Friday launched Represent!SA, a campaign meant to raise awareness on the May 6 municipal election and get more people to the polls.
“The objective of the campaign is ambitious, but it’s simple,” ThinkVoting Co-Founder Jeff Cardenas said. “We want to double voter turnout in this election.”
In the 2015 mayoral election, only 12.4% of registered voters turned out to cast ballots, SA2020 President and CEO Molly Cox told the Rivard Report. By comparison, more than 40% of registered voters turned out for the 2016 presidential election. However, that still placed Texas 49th in the nation, according to a report by NonprofitVOTE that ranks voter turnout in the states and District of Columbia.
“We’ve been very successful at registration, but we have a minuscule turnout,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said. “We’ve had local elections where we’ve had 6% or 7% turn out to vote.”
This year’s election features not only a hotly contested mayoral race, but contests for four open City Council seats and an $850 million municipal bond issue that includes six propositions for 180 infrastructure, parks, and facility improvements across the city.
Leaders from organizations and businesses such as the League of Women Voters, MOVE San Antonio, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, SA2020, Mi Familia Vota, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, UTSA Center for Civic Engagement, the Civic Technology Foundation, ThinkVoting, and OCI Group came together to implement innovative technology meant to double voter turnout in this year’s election.
TheVotingApp, spearheaded by the Civic Technology Foundation and powered by ThinkVoting, features key information that voters need to make it to the polls when they open for early voting on April 24. Available for both Android and iOS, the app features a voter registration tool that automatically fills out the voter registration form and emails it to the user after scanning the back of a valid Texas driver’s license. In addition, the app features interactive voter guides, information on the $850 million 2017 Municipal Bond, and a sample ballot.
“We hope to measure and replicate a model that can work in other cities across Texas and the rest of the country,” said Joe Santori, founder of ThinkVoting and the Civic Technology Foundation. “By simply putting the app on your device you are now equipped for any future election you are eligible to vote in. Not only is it a one-stop shop for all your election information, it pushes notifications to users and ensures they are registered to vote. It converts interest into action.”
Calendar events and polling place locations also will be included in the app, Santori said. The next phase of the project is to produce video voter’s guides providing information on each candidate.
The RepresentSA! campaign marks an opportunity to fix the turnout gap between presidential elections and mayoral elections, Cardenas said, and addresses the need to get new, younger voters participating in electing their local government.
The median voting age in the last municipal election was 63, 29 years older than the median age of San Antonio residents.
“Our generation is important to San Antonio,” said Drew Galloway, executive director of MOVE San Antonio. “Students and young professionals represent 36% of the voting-age residents in our city, but only 3.6% of 18- to 35-year-olds participated in the 2015 municipal election.”
More than 1 million people will move to the San Antonio area in the next 20 years, Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said, and it’s important to involve more citizens in public policy processes related to that growth.
“We have to think of it in terms of our infrastructure and how we can prepare for the influx of all those folks,” Treviño said. “It is my firm belief that the citizens get the most impact at the local level of government, and it’s important that we address these kinds of concerns by allowing folks to be more connected to their voting rights and allowing them to be civically engaged.”
SA2020 launched its own voting resource website Friday, ilovesanantonio.org. It helps users find out what council district they live in and what races are on the ballot, print a voter registration application, and find the nearest polling place. A Spanish version, meencantasanantonio.org, will be available soon.
Low voter turnout in local elections is a problem across the nation, Wolff said, and the key is to remove the obstacles and the confusion that keep people from voting. A big part of the problem, he added, are obstacles put forth by the legislature that drive down voter turnout.
“I can go to 40 or 30 early voting stations, but then on Election Day I can only go to one place, and if I don’t go to that place, then I can’t vote,” Wolff said. “Isn’t that absolutely stupid?”
Wolff hopes that new technology can be a step forward in helping push uniform voting sites all across the system where people can vote anywhere they want, and not just in their precinct.
“All those obstacles aside, we can do it,” Wolff said. “With the organizations that are here today … one of these days we will have as much success with people actually going to vote as we had in getting them registered.”