Approximately 27.3 million U.S. Latinos can vote in November – 12 percent of all eligible voters, according to the Pew Research Center. However, Latino voter turnout has been historically low the last few election cycles. In the last presidential election, for example, only one in three voting-aged Latinos under 29 voted.
“The consequences of not voting have been pretty dire. People have lost rights. What rights that were won in the last 10 years have been lost. The consequences are large for people and their families. So, this is a very big election coming up,” says Christine Neumann-Ortiz, the founding executive director of Voces de la Frontera.
Back in September, Neumann-Ortiz and Voces de la Frontera announced the launch of Voceros por el Voto, a historic effort to mobilize the most Latinx voters in any election in Wisconsin’s history and elect pro-immigrant, pro-worker candidates up and down the ballot. Their hope is to create the highest ever Latinx voter turnout in Wisconsin’s history.
“What we’re finding out there is that there is a Latino community that is very motivated to participate and have their voice heard on election day,” Christine Neumann-Ortiz tells Madison365. “You have Puerto Rican voters who are very offended by Trump’s response to the hurricane and the deaths. You also have obviously the escalated attack on the efforts to break up families both on the border and on the interior; putting children and families in cages and stripping away protections from refugees and immigrants.”
According to a Pew Research report released last Thursday, half of Latinos say their situation in the U.S. has worsened over the past year, up from 32 percent in the weeks after Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election and the highest level since the Great Recession. Also, many blame the current administration for what they see as the worsening situation of Hispanics, the nation’s largest minority group. Two-thirds (67%) say the administration’s policies have been harmful to Hispanics.
“What we’ve seen from this administration is unprecedented,” Neumann-Ortiz says. “Even going after people who are lawful permanent residents to try to take away citizenship rights. It’s just been an onslaught of cruel and discriminatory policies that are being implemented and they keep pushing the envelope to see what they can get away with. So the sentiment is very different from 2016 in the aftermath of the reality of the Trump administration and for any and all politicians that enabled him before or currently who are responsible.”
Politicians, she adds, such as Gov. Scott Walker.
“Gov. Walker sent our Wisconsin National Guard troops to help separate families at the border,” Neumann-Ortiz says. “It’s just been one thing after another. Walker is currently running ads against [Democratic gubernatorial candidate] Tony Evers to deny restoring tuition equity rights for Wisconsin immigrant youth and to restore drivers licenses.
“So, it’s not just Trump. It’s politicians like Walker who are responsible for where we are now,” she adds. “The threats are much harsher and they are escalating and they will get much worse if we don’t treat this election seriously.”
When it comes to organizing, Neumann-Ortiz says the focus has been much different this year compared to previous years.
“We’re building out a network of statewide Latino voters through family and friends, co-workers and neighbors,” she says. “We’re starting with our members but we’re inviting anyone and everyone to join. They would develop a list of family and friends that they know who are eligible to vote and then be responsible to inform them that of what they need to exercise their vote.
“What’s powerful about this is that it empowers people who don’t have the right to vote to be able to organize other people on their behalf,” Neumann-Ortiz adds. “For example, we have a young man who is volunteering with us who is a DACA recipient; he’s a dreamer. He’s a Vocero and he’s organized his brother and his friends to commit to vote. We have so many examples like this. We have another young woman who just turned 18 and her uncle was just picked up in this last ICE raid in Milwaukee and she is a Vocero. She will be voting for the first time and she has organized a ton of her school friends who will also be new voters turning out to vote on Nov. 6.”
Voceros por el Voto’s efforts and reach goes well beyond the south side of Milwaukee, the largely Latino area where Voces de la Frontera is headquartered.
“Since 2016, we made a very conscious decision, in the wake of the Day Without Latinos and Immigrants organizing effort to do a statewide general strike to prevent the anti-sanctuary bill from being implemented. Out of that, we recognized the need to form statewide chapters from the grassroots people who turned out to help organize in their locality,” Neumann-Ortiz says.
“In the case of the Latino community, this kind of engagement is really needed. It’s the right approach. People need to work with somebody closely to involve them in the process,” she adds.
They now have 10 statewide chapters and they are currently organizing out of seven of those – Madison, Milwaukee, Racine, Sheboygan, Waukesha, Green Bay and Wallworth County.
“What is really apparent with this Latino vote is that we need this close network to be created because often people are very disconnected from the elections – especially when you talk about the parents and the grandparents who are working-class,” she continues. “We had one woman who has been a U.S. citizen for 25 years and she saw our Facebook video about what had happened with the raids and how we were asking Latino voters to use their citizenship to vote on behalf of these families who have been targeted to stop this. She came in and became a Vocera. She’s been a citizen for 25 years and has never voted. She’ll be voting for the very first time.”
Voceros Por El Voto is also putting an emphasis on the youth vote.
“The Latino millennial vote, those ages 18-33, represents 44 percent of all millennial voters in Wisconsin,” Neumann-Ortiz says. “In terms of the present and the future, that’s a group that is really often the children of immigrants and they understand this issue very, very intimately and personally.”
National exit polls showed that Latinos voted for President Trump in the 2016 elections two points higher than they did for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney two years before. Neumann-Ortiz says she doesn’t expect those numbers to be nearly that high this time around.
“In that last election there was drop-off in voting among black and Latino and youth voting. For me, I’ve seen a shift in mood in the last two years,” she says. “There has been some lived experience since that last election and I think some people have learned their lessons. If anyone didn’t believe elections mattered, they know it now.”
On the eve of the 2014 midterms, only 35 percent of Latino voters told Pew Research that they were paying “quite a lot” of attention to the upcoming elections. According to the latest Pew poll, that number is now 52 percent for this upcoming election.
Voceros por el Voto hopes to have reached 10,000 Latinos here in Wisconsin by election day.
“There’s such a need for this kind of approach. We have such a high number of no voters or infrequent voters. We really want to get people to participate and then to create a culture of more participation,” Neumann-Ortiz says. “And not just limiting it to election days but becoming part of the broader struggle that goes on 365 days a year.
“This whole effort has been very pleasing for us. And it’s so powerful. It’s powerful when you see family and friends using their citizenship to vote on behalf of somebody else who can’t,” she continues. “I, myself, didn’t vote for many, many years. It wasn’t until through the immigrant rights movement that I reflected on the value and the privilege of citizenship and how people fought for it.
“The only way we’re ever going to make change is by getting some people out of office and getting good people in,” Neumann-Ortiz adds.