By Janet Murguía, President and CEO, NCLR
Key national media outlets are highlighting the growing power of the Latino vote, and the pivotal role Latinos could play in shaping the results of November’s elections.
While much about this election season has confounded expectations, one electoral forecast is happening as predicted: The Latino electorate continues to grow rapidly, and Latino voters are poised to shape the results of contests up and down the ballot. Parties and candidates that do not seriously compete for Latino voters’ support, or whose engagement is limited and last-minute, do so at their own peril.
Despite some who insist that “Latino” means “immigrant,” we know that more than three out of four Latinos in our country are U.S. citizens. Between the 2000 and 2012 presidential elections, the number of Latinos voting grew by 89%.
Yet there is still much work to do to ensure that the Latino community’s voice at the polls is as big as our numbers and our contributions to this country. We know that in presidential elections, more than 80% of registered Latinos turn out to vote. We need to do more as a country, to reach the estimated 12 million eligible Latinos who are not yet registered. The National Council of La Raza is working with its Affiliate organizations to work on closing that gap.
During an election cycle when many in the Latino community feel scapegoated or ignored, the best response remains to roll up our sleeves and raise the community’s voice. Voting is one of the tools we have. We must use it in this and every election whether it be local, state or national wide. Casting a vote for every position on that ballot because they all affect the lives of our families, our communities, and our country.
Meanwhile, a New York Times editorial, published in both English and Spanish and titled, “¡A votar! Latino Voters Can Make a Difference,” highlights the potential of Latino voters in the 2016 elections. Among the key points, the Times editorial notes:
If ever there was a year for Latinos in the United States to exercise their right to vote, 2016 is it.
…Latino grass-roots organizers hope that Mr. Trump’s nastiness will unlock the potential of the Latino electorate. That may well happen. They have made an ambitious push to get Hispanics to become naturalized citizens and to register to vote this year, particularly in swing states. The crush of applications for citizenship has overwhelmed the government.
…While immigration reform will no doubt entail a tough political fight, Latinos could make the prospect of an overhaul more likely by going to the polls in November. Low turnout among these voters would increase the likelihood of a Trump victory, which could mean mass deportations and more attacks on immigrants. America’s 56 million Latinos—one-third of whom are under 18—are helping to shape America’s future in classrooms, workplaces, and neighborhoods. It is only a matter of time before their mark on the nation’s politics matches their contributions in other spheres. That moment should start now.
NCLR is growing Latino participation with both proven traditional methods and innovative tactics. NCLR’s “Latinos Vote 2016” campaign is reaching prospective voters in person, online, and through community organizations and schools. For example, in Florida, NCLR canvassers have already registered more than 46,000 eligible voters. Online, the NCLR/mitú Latinos Vote app and web tool put registration at users’ fingertips and allow them to help others register just by sharing their phones. In collaboration with school administrators, faculty and students, NCLR developed a High School Democracy Project curriculum, and partnered with 50 schools on a back-to-school voter registration push.
NCLR is also working with its Affiliates to provide registration opportunities to the communities they serve. For example, led by NCLR Latino Vote Fellow Michael Toledo, the staff of Centro Hispano in Reading, Pennsylvania is working hard to educate eligible Latino voters and make sure they know where to go and what to do on Election Day.
In Harlingen, Texas, a city of 65,914 near the U.S.-Mexico border, the staff of NCLR Affiliate Su Clínica Familiar have all been trained and deputized to help individuals register to vote. “We’re not advocating Republican, Democrat, anything like that,” says Cheryl Sproles, the clinic’s Director of Community Relations and Community Outreach says. “We just want folks to register and be heard.”
And this effort will continue beyond the 2016 election cycle. It is also part of our civic engagement work designed to help eligible immigrants become citizens, citizens become voters, and the Latino community overall become engaged in policy debates that affect themselves and their families.
This is challenging work, but it’s necessary. We’re working hard to make sure as many Latinos as possible are ready to go to the polls on November 8.