While Democrats have made gains in the recent primary elections overall, in California, Latinos got clobbered. Few, if any, Latinos won elected seats. And an obscure Trump supporter got the second-most votes to be the governor of the Golden State.
These elections are surprising because California is home to the largest number of Latino registered voters, nearly seven million. But only 13 percent of all eligible voters came out to vote.
According to Vanessa Delgado, mayor of Montebello, Calif., “Our vote is critical and by staying out of a primary because it does not seem important, we essentially allow others to shape our future.” She goes on to say that Latinos can’t give away votes for someone like President Trump, whose border control policy has separated migrant parents from children and attack Latino civil rights.
What is keeping Latinos from voting? What difference does it make, especially to the Democratic establishment? And can this trend be turned around?
“One issue behind low Latino voter turnout is that most candidates spend little money on the Latino community and Spanish-language media. Latinos are taken for granted. This has been going on for generations,” according to Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America and longtime community organizer.
“Republicans and Democrats do not address Latinos in any meaningful way that would inspire us to vote,” said Dr. David Hayes-Bautista, director of UCLA’s Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture. “Republicans portray Latinos as foreign when two-thirds of Latinos are born in the USA.”
There are other reasons too. When people feel things are going well with the economy, they don’t feel a reason to vote. Or in contrast, “Can I really change things, really does my vote count?” said Helen Torres, CEO of Hispanas Organized for Political Equality (HOPE), a nonprofit Latina advocacy group.
Engaging the Latino vote will not be easy, but it can be done. But you need to “do the work: go out door to door, canvas and get people involved in ballot initiatives. Once they understand the issue they are more likely to vote,” Huerta said.
Sometimes making the connections is not enough, “I know in my family, the Latinas are often the leaders that help fill out everyone’s voter ballot and have those conversations. It’s something we have to instill in our families — this culture of voting,” Torres said.
Is voter education enough to turn this trend around? No.
“We have to have progressive candidates, people that are going to be champions for us,” Huerta said. “We need leaders that are going to fight these oppressive policies of the Republicans every single day.”
To Huerta’s point, in an amazing Congressional primary election in New York, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez — a progressive, young Latina — beat out a 10-term, well-heeled White male, and did so with little money in a diverse and ethnic community.
Democrats, in particular, need to engage Latinos from all political operatives, consultants, businesses and the media, and develop a targeted voter education campaign towards Latinos. Torres said “for either party, if there is not an investment in Spanish-language media, cultural sensitive ads and outreach, it’s going to be to their peril. Because of that lack of involvement it may contribute to the Latino voter stagnation at certain elections.”
It’s not enough to have a media campaign.
“Politicians need to let the community know how vital their vote is and how it matters” Hayes-Bautista said. “There also needs to be some public education efforts on how the US political system works. People need to see the big picture and their role.”
Luis Alfredo Vasquez-Ajmac, a Los Angeles transplant from D.C., is a nationally recognized Latino marketing expert, Emmy-winning producer, filmmaker, writer and activist.