How to engage eligible young Latino voters in the political process
In 2014, just 14% of youth who were eligible to vote showed up at the polls. “This is a crisis not just for our community, but for all youth,” Janet Hernandez, Senior Civic Engagement Project Manager at UnidosUS told the audience at The Power of 18: Mobilizing the Latino Vote in the Midterm Election workshop at the 2018 UnidosUS Annual Conference earlier this week.
There were 12.7 million Latinos who voted in 2016, but there are another 12 million eligible Latinos who are not registered to vote. There’s an average of 800,000 Latino citizen children who turn 18 and become eligible to vote each year. So it is critical to implement a strategy to effectively engage these voters in the country’s political process.
That’s why efforts like the Power of 18 campaign are so important. There remains a significant gap between the number of eligible Latinos who registered and those who turned out to the polls. Hernandez noted the drop-offs between the total number of Latinos who can vote, the number who are registered, and the number who turn out to the polls on Election Day.
That’s why at the UnidosUS Leaders in Action Summit this past March, we announced the launch of The Power of 18 campaign aimed at mobilizing youth to go to the polls during the midterm election.
When we can engage our community, they are highly likely to vote. “There’s an 80% chance that everyone who’s registered is going to go to the polls,” Hernandez explained.
At the same time much work remains. “We are not keeping up with the growth of the Latino population,” Hernandez explained.
As we get closer to the midterm elections, UnidosUS remains strongly committed to making sure that all eligible Latino voters have the chance to be heard in our democracy.
ENGAGING A GENERATION
“This generation is still in need of learning how, when, and why to vote,” said Magaly Alvarado, Associate Director of Civic Engagement at Hispanic Unity of Florida, a UnidosUS Affiliate.
UnidosUS has several programs, including canvassing efforts in Orlando, Miami, and Philadelphia, that are designed to register eligible Latinos and get them to the polls. Additionally, in 2018 our Latino Empowerment and Advocacy Project (LEAP) supported 19 Affiliates in 11 states—and since 2004 has registered more than 105,000 voters!
Another civic engagement program created by UnidosUS is the High School Democracy Project, which aptly lives up to its name by teaching high school students about the democratic process. A prominent topic, of course, is voting. The pilot program ran in 52 schools and nonprofit organizations and is being expanded to 100. Hispanic Unity of Florida is one of our Affiliates that runs the program.
“Youth are eager to participate in the political process. They believe in democracy and they believe in changes,” Alvarado added.
CREATE THE CHANGE TOGETHER
And it’s youth themselves who can drive this change. “We can’t wait for a charismatic leader to turn our community out,” Hernandez told attendees.
Each of the panelists shared strategies their organizations use to mobilize their community to go to the polls. For example, Jared Nordlund, Florida Senior Strategist at UnidosUS, mentioned the long list of locations that the UnidosUS canvassing teams visit throughout the voter registration campaign, including grocery stores, restaurants, churches, high schools, and more in Orlando, Florida; Miami, Florida; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Continuity and consistency in these efforts is key to yield results. Many of the canvassers who return year after year are members of the community where UnidosUS’s operations are centered. “They live there, they know where to find people,” Nordlund explained.
Elizabeth Bille, Director of Government Affairs at AltaMed Health Centers, noted that the California UnidosUS Affiliate might not seem like the likely host of a voter registration drive or the organizer of a get-out-the-vote campaign. However, the organization was founded as a free clinic, and she explained that social justice is in their DNA.
“Why is a community health center doing this? Because it matters,” she said. AltaMed now serves nearly 300,000 patients annually, and their voter registration effort has centered around their My Vote, My Health, Mi Voto, Mi Salud campaign.
“For us, it’s looking ahead, beyond an election year,” she added, explaining that AltaMed also offers naturalization workshops for legal permanent residents. The workshops also emphasize that civic engagement is a key component of citizenship.
There’s something each of us can do to make sure our community’s voice is heard and that we commit to engaging every community member. For example, Bille mentioned that AltaMed offers voter guides in both Spanish and English, so they can reach more people in the community.
But above all, each of the panelists agreed that voter education is an essential part of engagement—not just getting eligible members of our community registered to vote.
“You all have the power—together, we can create that change,” Bille said.
By Stephanie Presch, UnidosUS Content Specialist