A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from January 06, 2008
Politiquera (campaign worker or vote broker)

A “politiquera” is a “campaign worker” (or “vote broker") and is a familiar figure in South Texas. The politiqueras are mostly female, and they drive people to the polls or take mail-in ballots. In 2005, some politiqueras were accused of election fraud and preying upon the elderly. Some politicians have stated that politiqueras wouldn’t be employed in their campaigns, but the politiqueras have stated that all successfully elected officials have used them.

The Houston-based magazine La Politiquera began in 1990.


La Politiquera: About Us
La Politiquera is a publication with a focus on La Raza, politics and public policy .We started La Politiquera in 1990 in Houston, Texas as a response to the cancelation of the Fernando Perez del Rio radio program. We believed at the time that it was important to carrying on the tradition of asking serious questions relevant to La Raza. We don’t apologize for our perspective and the focus of the publication.  At the present time La Politiquera is published monthly. You can contact us at: d.santos @ sbcglobal.net or call (512) 291-9060

About the name: La Politiquera
In 1988, Lucino Perez Rosenbaum was running for the Democratic nomination for Cameron County Commissioner for the second time. He had lost his first bid for the position in 1984 by just 123 votes. Lucino’s younger brother Rene, decided he would do all he could to help his brother win this time around.

Rene put out a call to all his friends he had gone to school with at the University of Notre Dame. A number of us answered his call for help and took time off from our jobs to make the trip to Brownsville, Texas. We stayed in different people’s homes and worked on different parts of the campaign. It was here in Brownsville, “en el barrio de Southmost,” that I first heard the term “politiquera.”

People would tell us, “Si quieres sacar el voto en las calles tal y tal vas a tener que hablar con las politiqueras julana y fulana.” (These were the women who had the most influence in particular neighborhoods.) I had never heard the term “politiquera” despite 20 years de andar trabajando en la politica. Anyway, the term stuck with me.

Lucino ended up in a run-off election against Ray Ramon (the Henry Cisneros of the Valley in the 1970s). It was a heated run-off election and in the end Lucino ended up being declared the winner by just 6 votes. As the Democratic nominee, Lucino was now headed into the general election in November where he would ultimately win.

We all returned to our respective homes and continued to stay in touch with Rene and his family. Two years later when we decided to start a political publication targeting La Raza, the “politiquera” name came up and was ultimately adopted.

(OCLC WorldCat record)
Title: La politiquera.
Publication: Houston, Tex. :; Aztlan Development Co.
Year: 1990s-
Frequency: Monthly
Description: v. : ill. ; 37 cm.
Language: English; In English.
Standard No: LCCN: sn 96-37121
Access:  http://www.lapolitiquera.com/
SUBJECT(S)
Descriptor: Hispanic Americans—Texas—Periodicals.
Mexican Americans—Texas—Periodicals.
Mexican Americans—Texas—Politics and government—Periodicals. 
Note(s): Place of publication varies: Uvalde, Tex., <2004->; Austin, Tex., <2005->/ Editor: <2004-> A.R. Santos./ Description based on: Vol. 6, no. 1 (Jan. 1996); title from cover./ Also issued online.

Houston (TX) Chronicle
18 February 1990, Houston (TX) Chronicle, State section, pg. 1:
BUYING VOTES ON THE BORDER/A political tradition of beer, barbecues
By JAMES PINKERTON
Staff
BROWNSVILE - (...) One type of personal contact familiar to voters and eagerly sought by politicians is provided by “politiqueras” A candidate for district judge, for example, may spend $25,000 on television advertising but still hire “politiqueras”, as neighborhood political activists are known, to pull in the vote.

In the poor neighborhoods of the Valley, “politiqueras” are hired because of their personal influence to get voters to the polls on election day and during absentee voting. And while Texas election law now prohibits a candidate from paying to take someone to vote, some “politiqueras” do that - and more. 

Last year, in one of the first prosecutions in South Texas, two women in Raymondville were convicted of paying $20 to induce residents to vote for a slate of City Hall candidates.

Still, veteran politicians say the election law change has done little to regulate the work of “politiqueras.’ “What politicians do now is they pay them to distribute campaign literature, and that’s how they get around it - but in fact the “politiqueras” take people out to vote,” one official said.

Flo Chavez, who administers elections for the Hidalgo County clerk’s office, says “politiqueras” perform a useful service.

“The people rely on these “politiqueras” to give them assistance, to explain the ballot on (Election Day) or to fill out the absentee ballot,” Chavez said.

Veteran “politiqueras”, depending on their clout, can deliver between 200 and 250 voters on Election Day, Chavez said.

Even the more urbane candidates, like state Sen. Hector Uribe, D-Brownsville, say “politiqueras” are effective tools.

“I think it’s a cost-effective way of getting voters to the polls, but I don’t think they can compel someone to vote one way or another,” Uribe said.

Uribe, who eschews “pachangas,” acknowledges that the work of the “politiqueras” “is an anachronism, a throwback to how campaigning used to be done in the Valley.’ But their work persists because there is still a need in the “barrios” for a person who has an entree to the political system and the services offered by the government.

“A lot of time, people are not plugged into Channel 4 or 5 (local stations) and they get their political information from a ‘politiquera,’” Uribe says. “These people become ombudsman for the poor, they can put you in touch with social agencies.”

Wall Street Journal
‘Brokers’ Exploit Absentee Voters; Elderly Are Top Targets for Fraud
By GLENN R. SIMPSON and EVAN PEREZ
Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
December 19, 2000
FORT STOCKTON, Texas—When candidates need a little extra help winning an election here, they reach out to Candida Rangel, a 72-year-old grandmother who is the acknowledged expert at rustling up votes from elderly Hispanics in this dusty town.

Working for a candidate for district attorney in March, Ms. Rangel collected about 240 absentee ballots from local senior citizens, many of them illiterate Mexican immigrants who don’t speak English. One, 79-year-old Zacarias Leyva, says Ms. Rangel showed up at his tiny house on an unmarked dirt road shortly after his ballot arrived in the mail, offering to help him fill it out—with a vote for her employer.
(...)
In some parts of Texas, they are known as politiqueras, roughly translated as vote brokers.

“There’s not an experienced election official in Texas that will tell you this is not a problem,” says Austin attorney Randall “Buck” Wood, a specialist in election contests who typically represents Democrats. “This doesn’t become an issue when a race isn’t close. But show me a close race, and I’ll show you voter fraud.”

Dallas (TX) Morning News
They put the power into Valley politics
‘Politiqueras’ are vote solicitors, links between candidates, community
Author: BRENDA RODRIGUEZ Valley Bureau
Publish Date: April 9, 2002

A 68-year-old grandmother, an inch less than 5 feet tall, Natividad Arzola is a political power in this border town. She gets people to the polls, and her candidate of choice is almost always elected. 

Houston (TX) Chronicle
24 December 2005, Houston (TX) Chronicle, “Kindness cloaked scheme to steal votes on border: Politiqueras are accused of helping the elderly—as a way to get to their mail-in ballots” by James Pinkerton, pg. A1:
MCALLEN - They charm their way into the homes of elderly Hispanics and other vulnerable souls along the Texas-Mexico border. They help them with ordinary tasks, picking up their groceries or taking them to the doctor.

Then suddenly, these intruders steal a cherished thing from their victims: Their vote.

The indictment Wednesday of nine people in an alleged voter fraud scheme in McAllen opened a window into the hidden world of “politiqueras”, the paid political activists whose controversial ways are under scrutiny in South Texas.

Hidalgo County authorities allege that “politiqueras” bought and sold votes before the May 7 mayoral race in McAllen. The indictment charges nine people with electoral violations. They include Elvira Rios and her sister, Alicia Liscano Molina, two “politiqueras” known for their activism in the Rio Grande Valley.

“Our investigation revealed these “politiqueras” were preying on elderly voters,” said Texas Ranger Israel Pacheco, who headed the inquiry.

After befriending their victims, the political activists allegedly took their mail-in ballots and made sure that the names of the activists’ favorite candidates were checked off before sending them in, authorities say. 
(...)
Meantime, county officials worry about the lingering influence of “politiqueras”.

They are a “big factor,” in local elections, said Navarro, the elections administrator.

“The majority of mail-in ballots in local elections come with the assistance of the “politiqueras” being out there, pounding the street, going door-to-door, and knowing who votes by mail,” she said.

Guerra said election-related fraud is widespread in the county, adding he hopes the indictments will serve as a warning for candidates in next year’s elections.

“You have some some people who promise they will deliver so many votes for the money they’ve been paid, and I wish that would stop,” Guerra said. “But some candidate will pay campaign workers to go out and hustle voters so they can get elected that way, through the mail-in effort.”

Kinerk believes the indictments will force “politiqueras” to get out of the business.

“In Hidalgo and McAllen we’ve said “‘basta!”’ - enough! - and we’re trying to stop these illegal practices.”

Well-rooted system
Still, some longtime observers of border culture say it will be hard to get rid of “politiqueras”.

“The system is a way for a candidate to recruit voters in the barrios in the Rio Grande Valley,” said Anthony Knopp, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Brownsville.

“They way it operates is those who have influence in the barrio will be provided ‘gas money’ to bring their friends and associates to the polls,” Knopp said.

Other election traditions are changing “but the “politiquera” is going to endure for quite some time, because it’s a way of directly obtaining support.”

Google Books
Pachangas: Borderlands Music, U.S. Politics, and Transnational Marketing
by Margaret Ellen Dorsey
Austin, TX: University of Texas Press
2006
Pg. 31:
The few women present were cooks, candidates, political aspirants, the candidates’ wives, and politiqueras (female ward heelers).

A Capitol Blog
1.21.2006
Politiqueras Gone Wild!
Former Rep. Steve Wolens liked to call them vote-harvesters. Down in deep, deep South Texas however they are called “politiqueras.” Not always, but generally, ladies involved in get out the vote efforts, who it is alleged, sometimes cross the line with aggressive, at times improper, tactics in doing their job.

The use and abuse of the politiquera system has become an issue ever since a heated mayor’s race and a number of indictments raised the profile of the ever growing system.

Local Democrats in Hidalgo county are talking about taking steps to control the “arms race” and abuses in the use of politiqueras. I have to applaud the steps Chairman Maldonado and local Democrats are taking. Because of the pressures to win at all cost, it may be difficult for some politicos to get their actions to match their commitment.

Access My Library
A Link To The Cast: Politiqueras have always gone hand in hand with Valley votes.
Publication: Monitor (McAllen, TX)
Publication Date: 06-MAR-06
Byline: James Osborne
Mar. 6—McALLEN—Long before she ran for city office, even before she became an activist for her small neighborhood in South McAllen, Carmen De Leon met her first politiquera. “I was at my mom’s house, and there was a knock on the door. A woman came in and started talking to my mom about the referendum for the location of the new civic center. She wanted my mom to fill in her ballot, so she could drop it in the mail for her,” De Leon said of an incident in the early 1980s. “At that point, I was new, and I thought this woman had…

KGBT4 (Harlingen, TX)
EDINBURG
What Role Do Politiqueras Play in Valley Politics?
Updated: May 8, 2006 11:36 PM EDT
Reported by Ray Pedraza
If you’ve been to the polls lately, you’ve seen them ... campaign workers, better known as ‘politiqueras’, helping candidates haul in votes.

But who are they and why do they do it? Action 4 News Reporter Ray Pedraza investigates and also tells us why some election changes could be on the way.

Clara Casas has been taking people to vote for the past 16 years.

“This is the person that I’m supporting but once over there, it’s up to you (to determine) who you vote for,” Casas told one voter, as she drove to her to a polling site.

She says candidates call her to help them with their campaigns. Casas loves the job but hates it when people call her a politiquera.

“I just don’t like it; I get upset every time that I hear that word. It sounds cheap, it sounds ugly, dirty.”

She prefers to be called a campaign worker. So just who does she round up to vote?

“I have a list of people. I’ve been doing it over the years. Then some of the people die and I have to replace those people, so I start looking for more people, friends, relatives. Relatives, I ask them ‘Do you have other friends?’ And that’s how I get more people. I’m good at it.” (laughs.)

She says her list of potential votes includes about 300 names. And she claims her list of clients is quite impressive too.
(...)
She says the network of politiqueras, or campaign workers, is a large one. And it’s use among the candidates, she claims, it widespread.

“Oh, yes. Definitely, yes. Everybody uses them. I don’t see why they’re talking bad about us, they all need us. And one of the one’s that won, I’m not going to say his name, he said he didn’t hire politiqueras but he did. Some politicos say they don’t hire us, but they do need us.”

August 2006, Texas Monthly, “The Bad Guy With the Badge” by Ceciilia Balli:
And if more votes are needed, there’s always the option of hiring politiqueras, fierce women political workers who will journey door-to-door to help the eldest of the electorate fill out their early-voting ballots and drive vans crammed with people to the polls on Election Day.

5 November 2006, Brownsville (TX) Herald, “AG free to prosecute those who aid elderly, disabled to vote” by Emma Perez-Trevino:
Nov. 5—Herminia Becerra showed little concern Saturday following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to allow the Texas attorney general to prosecute those that help elderly and disabled voters cast mail-in ballots.

“All they do is bother people,” the 78-year-old politiquera said of the court and the Attorney General Greg Abbott’s prosecution of campaign workers that facilitate mail-in votes. “I am tired of them.”

Becerra’s for-hire work includes campaigning on street corners and courthouse steps and drumming up support for candidates that employ her, including block walking and knocking on doors of potential voters.

She’s more concerned, she said, about helping get her candidates into office on Election Day.

Texas Democrats went to the high court Saturday seeking to overturn a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling Friday that lifted an injunction they had obtained against Abbott.

Secretary of State Roger Williams and Abbott were sued by the Texas Democratic Party, which claimed that the Republican officials were using state law to suppress minority and elderly voters. The Democrats claimed that the part of the state law they were using violates federal law.

Tony Knopp, a longtime Brownsville political analyst and professor emeritus at the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, said there two ways to look the attorney general’s prosecutions.

“It looks like the AG might be obstructing people who just want to help the aged or infirmed cast a bal-ot, but people like politiqueras, for example, might be using the opportunity to try to influence people they help to vote,” he said. “Obviously, the Democratic Party is concerned about this because they often have a lot of politiqueras, particularly here in South Texas.”

U.S. District Judge John T. Ward issued an injunction Tuesday “pending a trial on the merits” of the case, but the appeals court reversed Ward’s ruling.

Appeals Court Judge James L. Dennis ruled that while Texas law appears to be overly broad in criminalizing conduct intended to assist disabled voters, it does not completely deny people the opportunity to vote. Allowing the election to continue without an injunction will give the courts a better record on which to judge the Texas voting provisions, Dennis wrote.

The law in question bans people from handling or mailing absentee ballots for voters who are not relatives or don’t live with them. State lawmakers amended the law in 2003 to permit such assistance if the helper signs the envelope with a name and address.

Abbott’s office has indicted 13 people for voter fraud since 2003. All of them had a record of voting Democrat; 12 were either black or Hispanic.
(...)
Becerra, who has been a politiquera since 1957, doesn’t believe the elderly or disabled are getting taken advantage of when someone helps them fill out a mail-in ballot.

January 2007, Texas Monthly, “Behind the Lines: Minority Report” by Paul Burka:
This was palanca (lever) politics: Vote Democrat and shut your eyes to what was going on. It was enforced by politiqueras, political workers (mostly female) who were, and still are, paid to get out the vote. 
(...)
Even the politiqueras are no longer reliably Democratic; they’ll sell their services to the highest bidder. 

23 July 2007, Brownsville (TX) Herald, “Records show more mail-in ballots than applications at elections office” by Emma Perez-Trevino:
“I have no idea how they do that,” mayoral candidate and former city commissioner Ernie L. Hernandez Jr. said Friday, candidly noting that his wife deals with politiqueras, or election workers.

His wife was not available due to a personal matter, but Hernandez surmised that applications probably are obtained from the Texas Secretary of State’s Office.

“These ladies are good,” Hernandez said of politiqueras. 

4 November 2007, Brownsville (TX) Herald:
Politiqueras warn candidates can’t win without them: Campaign workers’ role is controversial
by Laura B. Martinez and Emma Perez-Trevino
Nov. 4—A controversial figure is emerging early in the campaign season for the 2008 elections and she’s not even on the ballot.

Candidates hoping to win their parties’ nomination in March are taking sides on using paid campaign workers, or politiqueras to aid their run for office.
(...)
The use of politiqueras in elections has been common practice in South Texas. Their role has been questioned regarding obtaining and delivering mail-in ballots for elderly or disabled voters, which could be misled or manipulated.

State law bans people from handling or mailing absentee ballots for voters who are not relatives or don’t live with them. State lawmakers amended the law in 2003 to permit such assistance if the helper signs the ballot envelope with a name and address.

This was the subject of a 2006 lawsuit from Texas Democrats who said the practice was discriminatory and noted that all who had been prosecuted under this law had a record of voting Democrat and were almost always black or Hispanic.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last November that the attorney general is free to enforce the law.

But because politiqueras are becoming an ethics issue for candidates, choosing not to use them could be a smart move, said Jerry Polinard, a professor of political science at the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg who is frequently consulted to comment on local politics.

“Over the past few years using politiqueras has become a liability in terms of public perception,” Polinard said. “And if you are going to use them, you try to stay below the radar screen.”

He also acknowledged that using these campaign workers who are well known in the community and well versed in their craft, could be the key to victory for some candidates.

In a 2003 interview with The Herald, longtime politiquera Herminia Becerra claimed that “almost all the elected officials in the city and county are there because of us.”
(...)
In 2005, Hidalgo County politqueras were accused of buying and selling votes before the May 7, 2005, mayoral race in McAllen. Ten people were indicted on charges ranging from unlawful assistance to possession of another’s ballot. Some of the cases were dismissed while others were pending, according to media reports.

Hidalgo County officials discovered some politqueras were charging candidates similar to a piece rate, based on how many mail-in ballot applications they delivered.

Hidalgo County Elections Administrator Teresa Navarro said she placed a limit of one mail-in ballot application per person and 100 per candidate.

Cameron County officials are battling similar activity and are trying to come up with a solution that will bring back “integrity” to the election process. Currently, an individual in Cameron County can request 10 mail-in ballot applications per month, but this could change. The county is considering limiting applications to one per person per month.

Still, the paid campaign worker is not completely taboo here, yet. Some candidates plan to employ politiqueras to spread the word about their campaign.

“You cannot expect them to be out there for nothing,” County Commissioner Sofia C. Benavides said.

It is not illegal to compensate campaign workers for gas or food because these expenses must be reported on campaign expense reports. It is illegal to pay them for delivering votes.
(...)
“You don’t carry out a campaign without la politiquera,” said well-known politiquera and community activist Natividad Arzola. 

Brownsville (TX) Herald
Cheers and jeers
We take a look at some of the good, and bad, people have done recently
The Brownsville Herald
December 30, 2007 - 10:55PM
(...)
Cheer: To the growing number of local politicians who have vowed not to employ paid vote-getters known as politiqueras.

To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with taking steps to raise voter participation. Politiqueras, however, are mercenaries who promise to increase voter numbers for the specific candidates who employ them; some have gone as far as to guarantee election for their clients — something that can’t be legally done, given our voting system that’s designed to assure secret ballots.

One common politiquera practice is to visit nursing homes and retirement parks. Rather than take residents to the polls, however, the politiqueras help them get absentee and mail-in ballots. Some residents of those homes have reported that they are asked to sign the ballots without filling them out, and hand them over to the vote getters.

Losers frequently complain about the system, but few actually challenge the votes since even the losers have traditionally employed the politiqueras. Voluntary abstention from the politiquera system is the first step in reducing their influence, if not cleaning up the process entirely. 

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Sunday, January 06, 2008 • Permalink