Austin taco trucks to register voters in push to boost Latino turnout

Pushing back at comments from the founder of Latinos for Trump, a pair of Austinites are enlisting taco trucks to register voters in Travis County.

Marco Gutierrez, a supporter of Republican Donald Trump’s presidential run, famously told MSNBC last month: “My culture is a very dominant culture, and it’s imposing, and it’s causing problems. If you don’t do something about it, you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner.”

Those comments led Audrey Maker, a project manager for a tech startup whose husband is originally from Honduras, and Jose Valera, a part owner of Tamale House East, to team up for a voter registration effort.

Building on a voter registration campaign organized by the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, they’re calling their effort Guac the Vote.

WATCH: Hillary Clinton in favor of taco trucks on every corner

Leaving puns aside, voter registration numbers have increased statewide as a high-profile presidential race has dominated headlines. Travis County Voter Registrar Bruce Elfant said at least 715,500 people, or 90 percent of eligible Travis County voters, are likely to be registered by the Oct. 11 deadline — the highest portion in his four decades in Austin. It remains to be seen how many will turn out on Election Day, however.

Maker and Valera are aiming to harness taco trucks in areas with high concentrations of Latinos, low voter registration numbers and high amounts of foot traffic, Maker said.

While going about the business of selling food, the trucks will have personnel on board who can register voters — including a Spanish speaker and a trained deputy registrar to handle the forms. Maker said the mobile registration food trucks are also meant to correct “myths about the voter (identification) law — there’s a lot of things that people don’t know about whether they can vote or not, including that they’re eligible.”

As of Sunday afternoon, Valera had secured the commitment of two trucks — the goal is at least five trucks.

“As a business owner, I want to stay apolitical,” he said, explaining the challenge of recruiting taco trucks. “But this is not a partisan push — this is a voter registration push, and something we’d like to turn into a voter turnout push. It’ll be a success if we get 50 new voters.”

Miguel Becerra, the owner of the La Trailá on Mesa Drive, one of the trucks that will be involved in the effort, said he decided to participate because “it’s important everyone register and vote to decide who should lead the country.”

Inspired by Trump

Maker said she was inspired to act after talking with her father-in-law about Gutierrez’s comments.

Her husband’s family, which came to the U.S. as political refugees, is “very patriotic, and very committed to a life here. My father-in-law was just dismayed” about Gutierrez’s comments.

Trump’s campaign has “presented a generational opportunity to energize the Hispanic and youth vote,” said Glen Coleman, an Austin political activist and land use consultant who introduced Maker and Valera. “Young Hispanic voters are the future of this state, and the sooner they’re engaged in the political process, the better place the city and state will be.”

In 2014, fewer than 2.3 million Texas Hispanics reported in Census Bureau surveys that they were registered to vote, according to The Associated Press — about 46 percent of the nearly 4.9 million then eligible and about 300,000 fewer than reported being registered in 2012.

The organizers will convene volunteers Monday evening at Tamale House to make signs ahead of the registration push.

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New registered voters

Similar campaigns have cropped up in other parts of the state: In Houston, for example, at least a half-dozen taco trucks are involved in voter registration efforts.

“We’re happy to work with taco truck folks and anyone else to encourage people to be registered in Travis County,” said Elfant, the Travis County registrar.

Since January 2015, his office has registered 85,000 Travis County residents and presided over more than 400 volunteer training sessions, minting 3,300 deputy registrars to staff everything from Little League game voter registration drives to church voter registration events.

Statewide, 14.8 million Texans were registered to vote as of Sept. 7, the most recent figure available from the secretary of state’s office.

Still, experts expect far fewer Texans to vote in the election; turnout of registered voters statewide in the last presidential election was a shade under 60 percent.

“It’s easy to register, but when you’re voting you have to think about candidates and propositions on the ballot, and you have to care,” Elfant said. “A lot of people haven’t made the time in their lives to consider” their choices and how those choices affect them.

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