Mobilizing the Latino vote more important than ever

California Secretary of State, Alex Padilla, speaks during a voting and elections forum at Secretary of State auditorium in Sacramento on June 9, 2016.
California Secretary of State, Alex Padilla, speaks during a voting and elections forum at Secretary of State auditorium in Sacramento on June 9, 2016.

The clock is ticking for those who are planning to register to vote and never, at any point in history, has it been more important for Latinos to register, and vote.

That was the driving message at the Latino Community Foundation’s ‘Mobilize the Latino Vote – A Call to Action,’ a presentation held last week that drew a standing room only crowd of about 150 guests at the Impact Hub in San Francisco.

Latinos, who have been growing at exponential rates represent 38.6 percent of the population in California, making it the third largest population of Latinos in the country, just slightly behind Texas and New Mexico.

There are approximately 27 million eligible Latinos that can register to vote.

Every 30 seconds, a Latino turns the voting age of 18—and that translates to over 800,000 Latinos becoming eligible to vote each year.

This year, half of all eligible voters will be Latino.

And yet despite these growing numbers, Latino turnout during elections continues to be dismal, particularly among Latino millennials who make up the largest voting block in California and throughout the United States.

“We really need to figure out where this cynicism and disengagement that our youth has been experiencing is coming from. There is too much at stake to just stay home this election cycle and not do anything,” said Jacqueline Martínez Garcel, CEO of the Latino Community Foundation.

“We know that Latinos care and that the issues matter, but now is the time to mobilize and I can’t stress how important it is for each eligible Latino to register and cast their vote.”

Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who has been committed to modernizing the state secretary’s office, increasing voter registration and participation and strengthening voting rights is already seeing the numbers of voter registrations grow as his office, in partnership with the Department of Motor Vehicles work together to register people to vote.

“As of July 2017, any Californian who goes to the DMV to either renew or apply for a driver’s license will automatically be registered to vote if they are 18-years-old. Unless they insist on not being a voter, it will be a choice for them to sign paperwork and opt out, but we don’t foresee that happening,” said Padilla during a panel discussion on Latino voting trends.

The biggest surge in voter registration was seen during the California primaries when almost two million people between January and May registered to vote.

The power of technology, said Padilla is revolutionary during elections.

“Giving Californians the option to register to vote online was key in getting more people registered to vote for the primaries. With just a couple of clicks and a few minutes of their time, many Californians turned to the convenience of their computers to register to vote,” said Padilla.

Those that came out to vote made history. Nearly 18 million Californians registered to vote during the California primaries, making it the largest registration of Californians in the state’s history.

“That was the good news, but we will need to surpass the 18 million by November. Our hope is that that number continues to grow,” said Padilla.

In the meantime, those who want to help eligible Californians registered to vote must do so using the traditional methods of walking door to door with a clipboard and carrying registration cards; at community functions and through heavy mobilizing.

Padilla believes the new initiatives that have been set forth by his office intend to capture 90 percent of the eligible, but not registered to vote population. If it is successful, more than six million people will be added to the voting block.

Those numbers are crucial to making a change, especially given the fact that many Californians, particularly those who are people of color, working families and the youth, continue to face barriers and access to voting.

“Given those facts, who are those people that are still being denied access to democracy? That is us, Latinos. When you are 18 years old and a citizen, but are not registered, you don’t get the voter information guide. If you are eligible to cast a vote, the county has no way of knowing and will not send you a sample ballot. So, adding people to the voter roles, at the very least, gets them an invitation to join what I call, the ‘democracy party’ where they are part of a system,” said Padilla.

This system begins to incorporate new voters into the democratic process and as a result, they begin to receive materials and information they need to make their vote—and ultimately, their voice heard in any local, state or national elections.

If campaigns are smart, they would be wise to reach out to Latino voters.

“They will not ignore you. Smart campaigns will begin to engage with potential voters from the moment they register to vote and outreach will begin. That can be a tremendous power in California and beyond if we can make it work,” said Padilla.

Mi Familia Vota, who registered more than 87,000 families to vote back in 2012 will focus more on getting people registered to vote this year even though it is one of the most difficult jobs they have set themselves out to do.

“When you approach someone to ask them if they have registered to vote, you are questioning them about more personal matters like, are they a citizen? Then you ask for their name, number, address— that can be intimidating for a lot of people,” said Ben Monterroso, Executive Director for Mi Familia Vota.

Those who they were able to successfully convince to register to vote wouldn’t have done so if it wasn’t for someone who approached them to ask that question.

“We have found that the first step is to ask someone to register to vote, but the second and most important step is to give them a reason to. Most people who register do so because they have a reason to vote,” said Monterroso.

For Latinos, being a part of the American democracy is very important and the largest driving force behind their decision to register to vote. But for most, registering to vote is personal. There are important issues that they care about and want to have a say in the way in which they are addressed.

For many years, immigration was the central, most important issue.

“I think many Latinos began to become more civically engaged when the issue of immigration began to come up. The need for immigration reform was important for many of us, but the mistake that has been made is that many elected officials believe the Latino community is a one-issue type of community,” said Monterroso.

Immigration is important but not as important if education is not there for the children of working families, if working conditions in a place of employment are not up to certain standards or if there aren’t any jobs available. As part of a larger framework, Latinos care about many issues and want their voices heard.

“It is not one, but usually several issues combined that Latinos care about that drive them to the polls,” said Monterroso.

Part of Mi Familia Vota’s success in registering thousands of Latino families to vote was a result of community engagement. Many volunteers, who were mostly enthusiastic young kids joined Mi Familia Vota’s efforts in mobilizing the vote back in 2012. They, along with partnerships between local radio and TV stations and community businesses helped them register people to vote.

Their most successful partnership came from Cardenas Supermarkets in Southern California who gave Mi Familia Vota the opportunity to approach people and get them registered to vote inside their supermarkets.

“It was a lot better than chasing these people down through the parking lot, but having the opportunity to talk to people in a comfortable setting was a big win for us in terms of engaging with the community because they were more willing to listen,” said Monterroso.

Cadenas Supermarkets took Mi Familia Vota’s efforts a step further. With the purchase of certain goods like fresh produce, the supermarket chain created stickers that provided customers with important dates to register to vote and where to go to vote.

Mi Familia Vota believes many new registered voters came out from that effort alone.

“We need more of those types of businesses in our community, especially those who are helping grow the economy. Being civically engaged means everyone plays a role and Latino owned businesses can make an impact,” said Monterroso.

One community organization who is mobilizing Latinos to register to vote is SIREN. One of the most successful techniques they have been able to incorporate as part of registering Latinos to vote, is sending them a personal card to congratulate them on making an important decision and how it will impact their family.

“We remind them of important dates, we personally sign the card and let them know we are happy they are part of a larger community of voting,” said Maricela Gutierrez, Executive Director for SIREN.

It’s not just important to register people to vote, but to keep them as life-long civically engaged voters.

Gutierrez pointed to two recently naturalized citizens who joined SIREN and have been registering people to vote at some of the most unlikely places like bus stops, Tupperware parties, Laundromats, and at the homes of women to host ‘platicas’ or ‘charlas’ to engage the community.

“They find a location, usually a home of someone and they gather around to talk about the issues. They invite their neighbors and their kids and they discuss how important it is to vote,” said Gutierrez.

Gutierrez pointed to one of SIREN’s fiercest advocate— a man who is not eligible to vote, but who lost his home in the Silicon Valley and was living with his three children out of his car. He wanted to make his voice and concerns heard, so he attended a city council meeting.

“It was there that he shared with everyone his situation and the fact that he showed up is bravery to the highest measure. He told everyone that he may not be able to vote, but he knows that people have the power to create change and it was and continues to be inspiring,” said Gutierrez.

The last day to register to vote in California is October 24, 2016. All of the elected officials and community organizers who participated in the panel discussion on mobilizing the Latino vote agree that there is a lot at stake during this year’s presidential elections.

“This election has been unlike any other. I find myself staying up until one or two in the morning reading all of these articles. We cannot let the noise of this election keep us from voting. This election is more than Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or Ted Cruz. This election is about the values of this country and the ideals that our great grandparents, parents sacrificed to come here for,” said Garcel.

The person who is elected president will appoint three new Supreme Court Justices and put in place policies and laws that can have a strong affect on the Latino community.

Garcel believes this is not the election year to stay home.

“We cannot do business as usual this year. The stakes are too high. Our Latino community deserves a voice and we need to make it loud at the polls,” she said.