By Raquel F. Donoso
It all comes down to one day. Tomorrow is THE day. After months of campaigning Americans will each cast their vote to elect the next President of the United States, as well as make important decisions on state ballot initiatives and who will represent them on local school boards. There is a tremendous amount of political capital at stake tomorrow.
Yet, the question I am most interested in is to what degree will the Latino electorate-the so-called ‘sleeping giant’-get out and vote tomorrow.
We know the numbers:
- There are 52 million Latinos in the U.S, representing about 17% of the population.
- Approximately 23.7 million Latinos are eligible to vote – approximately 45.6% of the Latino population.
- Only 10.9 million Latinos are registered to vote (21%), and only 6.6 million voted in 2010 (12.7%).
The goal among organizations focused on increasing the Latino vote was to register 1M more voters to reach 12 million registered Latino voters. We’ll see if those efforts proved to be successful very soon.
This is a step in the right direction. But we must do more to support new voters and collectively create a “culture of voting” in our communities. Latinos are a young community. According to Pew Hispanic, 32% of eligible Hispanic voters are 18-29, compared to 19% among whites and 25% among blacks.
An astounding number of eligible to vote Latino youth turn 18 each month. Where are they receiving their voting cues from? How engaged are they in the voting process? What needs to happen all year long to build more engaged voters?
My son turned 18 in October and texted me the following after completing his mail-in ballot,
“Hey mom, guess what? I mailed my ballot!! I’m voting!!! I’m contributing to the norm and responsibilities of the masses!! Woo-hoo!!!” These are his direct words.
My parents were not born in this country, nor did they become citizens and have the right to vote until well into their adult lives. In fact, my Dad has been a citizen for less than 10 years. But, we discussed politics and power around the dinner table from a very young age. I went with my Dad to the picket line when he was on strike. I listened to his stories and understood what it meant to have the power to vote. I even have vivid memories of making my first political scrapbook for the 1984 Mondale vs. Reagan election in 5th grade.
My parents created a “culture of voting” in my house and this is a tradition that I have extended to my son and in my family.
It is important for each and every one of us to do what we can to not just awaken the sleepy giant, but to thrust that giant into the political process, ensuring that diverse communities and their voices are represented at each and every level of governance in this country.
You may be wondering why we, a philanthropic organization, are even discussing voting and civic engagement. The answer is simple-we know philanthropic support is not enough to tackle the challenges facing the Latino community. We must increase our investments to strengthen Democracy and contribute to building the civic engagement infrastructure that is so needed in California and this nation.
This year we have invested $10,000 in mini-grants to engage communities in discussions about the ballot initiatives and encourage Latino residents to vote. We have also travelled the state, meeting with leaders of Latino-based organizations to discuss issues and solution that affect our communities. Our long-term focus is the -California Latino Agenda – a cross-sector initiative that will build regional coalitions, increase statewide advocacy campaigns, and increase resources to Latino-based organizations that are doing exceptional work in California.
In order to reach our ambitious goals we must all participate in the civic process, and not just during national elections, but all year round. Voting means more than just casting a ballot, it means having the power to change our future.