Volunteers Drive Minority Voters to Polls, Hoping to Alter Balance in Republican Texas

An organization is giving Texans who don't have a way to get to the polls a chance to vote.

A woman wearing Hillary Clinton buttons poses for a portrait outside a polling location on election day in Dallas, Texas, November 8, 2016.
Laura Buckman, AFP

DALLAS – On the morning of Election Day, heavy rains that had caused flooding overnight continued to inundate this Texas city. Volunteers for the Texas Organizing Project (TOP), which had been recruiting voters in the city’s minority neighborhoods, made a mad dash from the parking lot to the group’s suburban headquarters, where they were arranging rides to polling stations for people who needed them, in a campaign dubbed Drive for Democracy.

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Adria Toliver Lemell, 30, took a day off from work to drive voters to the polls. “I think for many people, especially those who live far away, not having a way to get to the polls can prevent them from voting,” she said. “Especially in this weather.”

The first person she picked up was Cory McCoy, 46, who lives in south Dallas. “I was going to stay at home; I had no way of getting to the polls,” he said.

After a 40-minute drive we arrived at the polling station. The station worker checked McCoy’s identification carefully. “Do you live north of Ferguson Road, or south?” he asked. In the end he signaled to McCoy to join the line of people waiting to vote.

TOP, which is seeking to increase voter turnout among blacks and Latinos, has declared its support for Hillary Clinton in the presidential race. Its volunteers planned to help people get to the polls and back throughout the day. The group drove some 22,000 people to vote in the primary elections, and it said proudly that some 40 percent of its voters had already cast their ballots; many of them were Latinos voting in a presidential election for the first time. Lam Lam, the ride organizer, explained that for first-time voters, the ride isn’t just a ride, but moral support.

In the months of voter recruitment, the group’s volunteers had a hard time persuading Latinos, many of them conservatives who oppose abortion and gay rights, to vote Democratic.

“We had to explain how their interests align with the [Democratic] candidates’ platform on immigration,” said Brianna Brown, TOP deputy director. The volunteers explained to residents that a Democratic president would be able to expedite immigration reforms including programs that would provide legal residency tracks for youngsters who arrived in the United States before age 16 and to parents of citizens and lawful residents. These programs have been stymied by court orders and the volunteers stressed the importance of having a Democratic president make the next appointment to the Supreme Court.

Brown noted that several of TOP’s volunteers are undocumented immigrants. “They’ve been knocking on doors, and saying to people, ‘I can’t vote, I need you to vote for me.’”

Latinos, have traditionally had low voting rates, but could hold the political balance of power in Republican Texas. After a tense campaign in which Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump warned his voters about rigged elections, TOP fears there might be violent incidents sparked by Trump supporters, who promised to come to the polls to “supervise” their operations.

“In the two previous elections, I would have said ‘No, I don’t fear that there would be incidents, but this time, with the pitch being so high, I don’t feel that I can say that,” Brown said. “I feel uncertain about what is going to happen. Just yesterday, we had an incident; someone called us and threatened our volunteers.  He said he will come over and ‘do something to them’ and he knew the names of the people working here. I don’t know how he got the names.”