The UnidosUS Latino Empowerment and Advocacy Project is helping citizens become voters in Texas and throughout the country
People all over the country aren’t just outraged. They’re getting engaged. And thousands have already registered to become voters. From Philadelphia to Miami and Texas to Arizona, UnidosUS and our Affiliates are working hard to ensure that these new voters are able to advocate for the issues they care about.
The major political parties do not invest large resources into voter registration or education. That is why the nonpartisan voter registration work of community-based organizations is so important.
At UnidosUS, we recognize the need and have acted. Since 2002, our Latino Empowerment and Advocacy Project (LEAP) has registered more than 100,000 new voters. We provide community-based organizations and our Affiliates with resources and training to strengthen their voter-registration and education efforts. There are currently 20 UnidosUS Affiliates and partners in 12 states that are implementing LEAP.
One of these is Texas Affiliate Su Clínica, which has been a member of LEAP for more than a decade. Since 1971, the nonprofit community health center has been serving thousands of people in the mostly rural, overwhelmingly Hispanic community in the border towns of Harlingen and Brownsville. The organization has certified counselors like Javier Araiza and Julio Santana who conduct nonpartisan voter registration and outreach. They do this in their clinics and as part of the services they offer at events such as community health fairs.
At a time when it may seem like national issues take up all the attention, Julio and Javier have noticed that local concerns and circumstances are making many people in our communities aware that they have to become voters and participate in the process.
(ALMOST) ALL POLITICS IS LOCAL
“I spoke to a lady last week that had never had an interest in voting. But now that her grandkids are in school, she has an issue with teachers carrying guns into campuses,” Julio says.
“She’s diehard against it. I told her that’s a local decision, that if she registers and votes, she would have a part in it. So, she was excited about that,” he adds.
This is just one example of the renewed energy Javier and Julio agree they’ve been seeing leading up to the November midterm elections.
“Registration has increased,” says Julio, who has been doing voter registration work for the past 22 years. “Midterms have always been flat, but right now we’re almost at the point we’d be in a presidential year” in terms of people registered.
“We are seeing an increase, definitely,” he adds.
CONVINCING PEOPLE OF THE IMPORTANCE OF THE VOTE
Javier has been doing voter registration work at Su Clínica for 11 years. He says they always stress that whatever side people are on, they should be registered to vote.
“If something is very important to you, it’s important that you are registered to vote,” he says. But Javier admits it’s not always easy.
“Some of the rejections [from people] are ‘I don’t vote, I don’t care’ or they don’t believe in politicians,” he says. “But we try to take the opportunity to talk about the issues we’re confronting to show why it’s important to vote one way or the other.”
Both agree that they’ve been seeing younger people than in other years interested in registering to vote. And they’ve found local issues are critical to get people interested in participating.
“We have a lot of issues here. We have a lot of military bases, we have the border wall, we have SpaceX, we have petroleum, we have resources—we’re like our own little nation,” Julio says. “So, a person may not be directly impacted by a national issue, but we always stress that politics begins at the grassroots and at the local level. That’s always a good sell.”
The work of Julio and Javier and the staff of all UnidosUS Affiliates is vital to getting our community registered and out to vote in November. No matter where you stand on the issues, we want you to register and get out and vote on November 6—and in every election.
Since 2008, UnidosUS has registered more than 600,000 voters and motivated them to take their newfound power to the polls. This year’s Power of 18 campaign engages potential voters via on-the-ground canvassing concentrated in Florida and across the country, and through digital platforms. The campaign engages, educates, and assists eligible voters where they are, shows them the value in voting, helps them register when possible, and helps them advocate for voter registration and engagement in their communities.
Related UnidosUS initiatives such as the High School Democracy Project and LEAP integrate the values of civic engagement into school and community programs to build the next generation of voters.
— UnidosUS (@WeAreUnidosUS) August 28, 2018
ELIMINATING BARRIERS TO VOTING TURNOUT
There are some things people can do themselves to make sure they’re prepared to vote. One is to make sure you are registered—Julio and Javier say they helped many people who had previously voted but had not done so in a while to check their status on the voter rolls.
There are also policy changes that can be made to help more people turn out at the polls.
“We’d like to see at least the presidential election be a holiday,” Santana says. “That would increase turnout. So, we’d definitely like to see something like that nationwide.”
This turnout is important not just in presidential elections. Every election counts.
“Right now, we’re about three months out. We’re going to start to see more advertising. Here in Cameron County we have on the ballot the Texas governor, our state senator, United States congressman, and county judge,” Julio says. “Those are the big hitters, beside the president, so I’m hoping for a good turnout.”
By David Castro, UnidosUS Director of Content Development