I had the privilege of meeting with staff members of Houston Votes, a local organization well on its way to meeting a goal of registering 100,000 voters in Harris County. Houston Votes is sponsored by the organization Texans Together Education Fund, a nonpartisan 501 (c) 3 that engages the historically disengaged in Harris County.
In 2008, Houston Votes tested its abilities registering 24,000 lower income residents, which in turn produced a 65% turnout. In Harris County, there are 600,000 eligible, yet unregistered, potential voters and Houston Votes and its partners have committed the resources necessary to getting the job done.
As Houston Votes tells us very frankly, it has five prongs: Public Awarness, Storefront Voter Registration, Door-to-Door Registration, Non-Partisan turnout, and strict compliance.
And they aren’t joking, either. Founder Fred Lewis, a voter rights advocate, is quite serious when he speaks about being compliant and especially non-partisan. They know where the voters are–in 285 low turnout precincts–and their job is to bring out new registrants. There is no “voter info” sharing with partisan groups, and, if anything, they take voter engagement quite seriously.
As Lewis told me, engaged community members make for a healthier community.
What this blogger enjoyed the most about this organization is that it has brought in staff members from “the outside,” to lead the ground effort. Highly qualified individuals who have been effective in other parts of the United States and are up to the challenge of meeting the group’s goals.
While previous nonpartisan efforts have been challenged as partisan by one political party or another because of those involved or in the lead, Houston Votes is effectively avoiding the “taint,” in that it is serious about its work.
Frankly, I find the organization that much impressive. As partisan as I am, I think engaging people–whether it’s for the ballot box or for the purpose of engaging entire neighborhoods in various governmental processes, is more important.
I am reminded of that good ol’ notion of PAR–Participatory Action Research–which is usually avoided by political parties in fear that it will only grow the universe of voters. But it works if done correctly.
Anyway, Houston Votes is having a kick-off party on Thursday at 6PM at the Pearl Bar on Washington. I’ll be there taking a few pics and celebrating their jump start to reaching their goal. Join me!
For now, check out this video to help reach the Latino community that is unregistered.