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Consistency Creates Community

May 29, 2017

I have been working on The Southwest Voter Registration Education Project Collection for almost a year now and everyday I find out more about the organization and the people who worked so hard to make it a success. After sorting and foldering over 20 boxes of Administrative and Financial records,  I finally began unpacking and examining the Voter Registration series that I have been so looking forward to. This is the heart of the collection; the real work that SVREP set out to do, and it totals upwards of 70 boxes of documentation from voter registration events all across the Southwestern United States.

SVREP registration project files for 1982, still in original order and ready to be re-foldered in acid free folders.

The first thing that I noticed about the voter registration boxes is that there was clearly a system in place to keep track of all of the projects happening at once. [Insert Hallelujah emoji here]. While the boxes themselves were out of order, presumably from moves to and from storage, each box was pretty well organized and in it’s original condition, which is what every archives assistant hopes to see when opening a box for the first time. Most of the folders still had their original hand typed labels and were still in numerical order. I was ready to jump in.

As with my previous series, processing these folders means removing staples or rusty paper clips, skimming over them to check for sensitive information and looking for and containing any documents that are showing signs of discoloration. Once a folder is completely skimmed, I can transfer it to its forever home, an acid free legal sized folder, labeled clearly in penciled print. It didn’t take long at all to see that each folder was a work of concise order and purpose. No matter how many folders I transferred, they all followed the same steps and each form was carefully place in the exact same order. The pattern went on for hundreds of folders. Each folder began with a summary of the project stapled to the front inside cover, it described the city, year and coordinator of the registration drive to be carried out. In each case a coordinator or volunteer from the targeted community was chosen to gather other volunteers to go door to door in their town registering voters over a one month period. A careful list of volunteers, houses visited and an expenses had to be reported and documented in each folder in order for the project to be deemed a success. Time and time again each folder was completed.

Of all of the contents of the folders two things still strike me as amazing; the first is the frequency at which people in the 70’s and 80’s wrote down their Social Security numbers. So much so that it has created an entire side project itself: redacting all of the sensitive info.

The second thing is the final page in each folder. Clasped on the back cover of every project folder is a list of community members, friends, (compadres), who volunteered their time to help register citizens in their city. This is the document I find myself staring at the longest each time I flip through a folder. Each one reminds me of the pages of a census. They are pages that list participants in a national journey and they make me swoon. I was giddy at the sight of members of my own hometown church, El Buen Pastor, listed in a folder titled Hidalgo, ’82. and I was beyond excited to recognize names of people who, 30 years later, are still registering voters here in San Antonio.

I still have about 35 Voter registration boxes to re-folder, but because of the consistency of the previous boxes, I know what to look forward to. SVREP organizers created a system that could be duplicated and scaled up with ease, but when I see their ability to coordinate hundreds of month long voter registration projects across five states, with minimal central man power and even less funding, I am in awe. To have such a clear road map in these folders of how they pulled it off was never luck, it was by design.

**This project is generously funded by the NHPRC**

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