By: Masha Chernyak, Vice President of Programs & Policy, Latino Community Foundation
What we learned about voter turnout from the 2016 election: The numbers demand action!
According to recently released data from the UC Davis California Civic Engagement Project, 60% of U.S. eligible voters turned out in the 2016 Presidential Election, representing a 2% decrease from 2008. While over 120 million Americans voted in this election, 100 million eligible voters did not vote.
In California, the voter turnout data also provided interesting numbers. As a result of a large increase in voter registration (2 million new registrations) and voter mobilization efforts, 14 million votes were cast, representing a 75% turnout rate among all registered voters and a 59% turnout rate among all eligible voters.
As for the eligible youth in our state—a meager 36% made it to the polls.
Within the Latino community, there were signs of progress
In 2016, California experienced record registration rates—68% of eligible Latinos and 63% of eligible youth were registered to vote. Registration rates are important because as these rates grow, so does actual voter turnout.
For actual turnout, a record 46% of Latino eligible voters turned out to vote, and 68% of Latino registered voters cast a ballot—an increase of 7% in both categories over the 2012 Presidential Election. The four counties with the highest Latino eligible voter turnout were San Francisco, Alpine, Alameda, and Los Angeles. Los Angeles had the highest growth in Latino eligible turnout, increasing 8.6%.
Although this is an improvement, Latinos are still dramatically underrepresented in our electoral process.
Why does this matter?
The populations that show up on election day in the greatest force still tend to be older, whiter, and wealthier. When these voting disparities exist, communities become less represented both in the electorate and in the policy-making process. This translates into Latinos not exercising their power and influence in the decision-making process. This also means that candidates will not campaign in our communities or listen to the needs of Latino families because they don’t expect Latinos to vote.
What can we do?
We must continue to instill a culture of voting to keep our communities civically engaged for the long haul. We need to invest in year-around organizing, culturally responsive, civic education and engagement initiatives with a special focus on Latino families and millennials. Using the words of Antonio Diaz of San Francisco Rising Alliance, “we need to change the culture of voting and make voting a habit, not a chore.”
We must focus on Latino youth—they are our future, and a powerful voting bloc. Latino youth are the fastest growing demographic in California and have the power to significantly influence the political arena and the direction of the state. According to the Pew Research Center, millennials, ages 0 to 35, are dramatically expanding the Latino electorate. Currently, millennials comprise 44% of Latino eligible voters nationwide. Since 2012, over 3 million U.S.-born Latino youth have turned 18, producing an 80% increase in Latino eligible voters.
We must find better strategies for inspiring their engagement and turning their passion into action at the polls.
There’s no time to waste!
We have to invest in Latino civic engagement and voter mobilization NOW! The 2018 midterm elections are less than 615 days away. All members of the House of Representatives will be up for re-election and Californians will also choose a new Governor. We must invest in the cultural awakening of our young people. At the Foundation, we’ve learned that once you give young people a better sense of their own culture and the history, they feel tremendous pride and start to care about political power and the public policies that shape their lives.
Nonprofits and the philanthropic sector have a unique role to play in supporting this work to ensure that our democracy works for all. We have a very long way to go to ensure that the Asian, African American, Native American, and Latino voices contribute to the policies that shape the future of our state. There is no better time to organize than now.
In the coming years, LCF will continue to lead a concerted effort to organize Latino communities and mobilize residents to exercise their collective political power. Join us – as a donor, Giving Circle member, funding partner, or an ally! We need you!