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—only 36% made it to the polls and cast their ballots.
Within the Latino community, 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, while 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. Latinos comprise almost 40% of California’s population and 28% of eligible voters, but only 22.6% of actual voters. Latinos will become more represented in the electoral process if the percentage of both eligible voters and actual voters are of more equal percent.
Why does this matter?
The populations that show up on election day in the greatest force still tend to be older, whiter, wealthier and more highly educated. 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 decision-making processes in Sacramento and local districts (e.g. cities and counties). This also means that candidates will not campaign in our communities or listen to the needs of Latino families because they don’t expect us 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 make it easier to both register to vote and to cast a ballot. We also need to invest in year-around, culturally responsive, civic education and engagement initiatives with a special focus on Latino 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. According to the Pew Research Center, millennials, ages 0 to 35, are dramatically expanding the Latino electorate as 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. 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. By 2040, Latinos are projected to comprise 38% of eligible voters in California. We must find better strategies for inspiring their engagement and turning their passion into action at the polls.
So what’s next…
There is no time to waste. The 2018 midterm elections are less than 615 days away. All members of the House of Representatives will be up for reelection and Californians will choose a new governor. We must move the needle on Latino voter registration and turnout. There will also be a myriad of local elections at the city and county levels before 2018. We must invest in local community organizing efforts that give youth and families an opportunity to mobilize—it’s time to activate our power.
Nonprofits and the philanthropic sector will have a unique role to play in reaching out to our voters and making the connection between civic engagement and voting. If we can improve our voter turnout and political engagement, our democracy can thrive—and become a beacon of hope for the nation. We can’t wait to do this work every four years, we must invest now!