Q&A with Carlos Martinez, Database Outreach Manager

On the left: Creating voter registration opportunities has helped AACT increase voter turnout in the deep South Texas.

The Advocacy Alliance Center of Texas (AACT) is a non-profit, non-partisan civic engagement organization that formed in 2011 to improve voter turnout in South Texas. At that time, approximately 2 out of 10 residents were voting in major elections, a turnout rate that was well below the state average. In the 2018 midterm election, that number swelled to 4 out of 10. AACT data outreach coordinator Carlos Martinez talks about how AACT has been able to impact voter turnout, as well as how women have played a role in the organization’s success:

How did the AACT get started?

Carlos Martinez: “The AACT was born because there was a lack of civic participation and engagement here in the Rio Grande Valley. Our kickoff project was a senior summit in 2011 that targeted high school students in our service area, which are the communities in and around Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, and Willacy counties. During the event we talked to high school students about the importance of voting and provided education about the voting process.”

Why is it important for South Texas to have an organization like AACT?

CM: “Historically there’s been a lack of participation in this area. A lot of politicians come to the Valley asking for support, but on election day the turnout would be minimal, if not dismal.

“That’s why business and community leaders joined together to create AACT.  In order for our community to have a voice in government, we need to mobilize voters and encourage participation, and we also need to help people eliminate or navigate any barriers to voting. Our goal is to achieve a 65% voter turnout in South Texas for presidential elections.”

How do you encourage voter participation?

CM: “We focus on three things: education, engagement and empowerment. We try to get in front of as many groups as we can to present statistics about voter turnout and provide information. And of course we are constantly encouraging voter registration. In many cases, we hand out voter registration cards and have people fill them out right there on the spot, and then we collect the cards and drop them in the mail.”

How do you engage the community in your mission?

CM: “AACT works with our community partners—local businesses, local media, veterans groups, colleges, school districts, religious groups and other non-profits—to coordinate community events and strategically recruit volunteer ambassadors who can serve as resources and influencers for voting participation. Employees who become voters will in turn promote voting with their customers, and those customers can then influence their families and the other people in their world.

“These ambassadors can be just about anyone—human resources staff, students, nurses, you name it. Because they are so important for what we do, we try to recruit people who are well known within their workplace or organization, such as managers or trusted team members.

“Our board members are very important in our community engagement as well. They can open doors for us and set up meetings, and get us in front of CEOs to explain our mission and why it matters to their organization.”

How are South Texas women impacting your mission?

CM: “Women are absolutely crucial to our mission. They are so important in carrying out the work that we do. Not only do they know how to organize and get things done, they have such influence. When I was growing up, I know that anytime my mom or grandmother told me that something was important, I paid attention and I still do.

“Many of the ambassadors who have really come through for AACT have been women. Also, women on our board have also been instrumental in creating momentum for our mission, especially two of our founders who have also served as board presidents, Dr. Eliza Alvarado and Dr. Luzelma Canales. Their leadership helped organize the structure for AACT and create strategies that have helped us move forward.”