Monday, August 08, 2016

"After citizenship, she fights voter apathy," by SAEN Elaine Ayala

SA Express News Columnist Elaine Ayala
Silvia Alcaraz is exactly the kind of voter Republican legislators have tried to keep out of the political process.

She’s an immigrant who became a citizen, registered to vote and became active in Democratic politics.

In GOP-led states throughout the country, repressive voter ID laws targeting voters like Alcaraz have been blocked by courts unpersuaded by claims of voter fraud.

Most recently in Texas and North Carolina, strict voter ID laws were condemned and those states were ordered to loosen their grip and make it easier for voters to exercise their rights.

The real problem with voting in America, Alcaraz says, is that Americans aren’t voting. As a Bexar County Democratic precinct chairwoman, Alcaraz has combated that apathy.

The Guanajuato-born co-owner of Dignowity Kolaches became a permanent resident in 1990. She didn’t rush into citizenship, but by 1996, she recalls following President Bill Clinton’s race.

“I realized I was a Democrat,” she says.

Alcaraz refused to become a citizen, however, mostly because it precluded her eldest son from Navy training that could have put him in harm’s way. “I was being a Mexican mom.”

Several years later, her son wanted to apply to the CIA and couldn’t be considered unless both parents were citizens.

“ ‘This time,’ he said, ‘I’m not calling you as a son. I’m calling you as a soldier.’ 
Alcaraz began the citizenship process. About the same time, she was invited into a professional women’s network called Comadrazo. She met Gloria Uribe, who was not yet working for the Democratic Party. Alcarez said Uribe struck her as a citizen interested in civic engagement.

“I sent her a text that said, ‘Gloria, would you be my madrina?’ ” meaning godmother. Uribe replied, “ ‘Your madrina? I guess. You haven’t been baptized?
’ ”
“My voting madrina,” Alcaraz responded.

In the 2008 primary, Alcaraz voted for the first time in her life. She and Uribe early-voted together. During the general election, Alcarez volunteered to call registered voters to remind them to vote. She coordinated drivers to transport voters who requested rides to polls.

She also ran unopposed for precinct chairwoman in her Fort Sam Houston area. When she runs into people who seem ambivalent or opposed to voting, she first asks if they’re registered to vote.

Sometimes they are, but don’t know if they’re still eligible. She uses VoteTexas.gov to find out.

Alcaraz uses a financial analogy to make her point about the importance of voting. She compares a vote to a penny. Sure, it’s not a lot of money, but when you have 99 cents and need a dollar, all it takes is one penny to get there. “That penny is your vote. Your penny can change everything.”

And that’s what Republicans are really worried about: that poor and minority voters will see that worth. It’s the same reason the GOP Legislature carves districts to dilute the power of voters of color and the poor.

This election cycle isn’t the first time that alleged voter fraud has so focused conservatives to target such potential voters. Harvard Professor Alexander Keyssar’s book “The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in America,” found 19th- century Protestants similarly fearful that Irish, Italian and Eastern European immigrants would vote and upset “the political balance of power.”

Before women gained the vote, those who opposed the 19th Amendment argued, among other points, that in some states, women voters would outnumber their male counterparts and “place the government under petticoat rule.”

Michael Waldman, president of New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, writes in his book “The Fight to Vote” that the founders were fearful “the poor would sell their votes.”

Waldman says Heritage Foundation co-founder Paul Weyrich once mocked Christians concerned about voting rights. “They want everybody to vote,” he said in an unguarded moment. “I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

And that’s the real voter fraud that continues to mire the country.

Alcaraz doesn’t get into all that when she encounters reluctant voters. She stays focused — as we all should — and reminds them of the valuable penny in their pocket. 

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