In an exclusive interview with LPO, Joseph Garcia, Vice President of Public Policy at Chicanos Por La Causa and Executive Director of CPLC Action Fund discussed the importance of the Latino vote and the challenges Hispanic voters face in the upcoming midterm elections next year.
Currently, CPLC's work focuses on driving economic and political empowerment for Latinos across the country. Its programs and services have impacted almost 625,000 lives annually in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas.
How important is the Latino vote in the 2022 elections?
It's not going to be easy to replicate the Latino turnouts that happened in the last election, which was a presidential election. Midterm elections have a sharp drop-off when it comes to voter participation across the board. It's going to take a monumental effort to make sure that Latinos don't lose the momentum that they've built up with the last election and that they show up to vote in this election. It is a big election, so it is really important.
The hurdles are going to be to reenergize individuals who have a somewhat historical, low turnout at the polling place to get them to vote again, because voting is a learned behavior. I don't think that that frequency of voting has yet become habitual.
The other task is all the voter suppression laws, which have taken place and are taking place in many states, including Arizona and Texas and elsewhere. They are designed to keep people of color, especially Latinos and blacks, from voting. If you see a long line or someone's telling you, you can't vote because you don't have an ID or whatever the reason may be, how determined are you going to be to vote?
It is going to have a negative impact on the voter turnout, there's no doubt about that. Not only do we have to make sure that Latinos show up to vote in numbers that they showed up in the last election, but we need to make sure it's even in greater numbers because we need to offset the voter suppression that's taking place.
The Latino is obviously very important. For instance, here in Arizona, Latinos make up about 25% of the eligible voters and the Census numbers have come out across the nation, including these key states, and largely the increase in population has been because of Latinos. So, the numbers are there. We just need to make sure the numbers translate into actual ballots cast.
Is the Arizona legislature trying to suppress the Latino vote?
Some of the measures have to do with IDs, which we know that a lot of Latinos don't have IDs. They don't necessarily have driver's licenses and some don't have birth certificates. The extra steps that it takes to get an ID will be a challenge. Whereas Arizona used to be one of the best states when it comes to mail in ballots, now there's a lot of extra steps to prove that you are who you say you are, and we know what that impact is going to be.
There have been the problems at polling places with long lines, which discourage people from voting because a lot of people can't wait in line for hours because they have to go to work or they're farther away from their polling place.
The legislature is looking at ways to question the outcome of elections. They could even go to a third party to decide who actually won. So it is across the board on ways to suppress the Latino vote, especially because they see the trends that Latinos continue to gain more numbers and therefore more political clout.
The only way to afford that is to somehow reduce numbers that show up at the polls. In Arizona, we're just one seat both in the Senate and the House from changing, whether that'd be to a Democratic or a Republican House. We're kind of the microcosm of the nation. Cause it's similar somewhat to what is happening in Washington DC with the Senate, one vote changes everything. It's really important that the Latino vote is voting.
There's also a ballot initiative in Arizona, which has to do with DACA tuition. If you're a dreamer, you would get to pay in-state tuition instead of out-of-state tuition, which is the case now, and that's on the ballot.
It is even more important that Latinos and others show up to change this very bad policy because it's keeping a lot of dreamers from going to our state universities or going to community college.
Are these efforts being pushed mostly by Republicans because they're scared that Latinos will vote in larger numbers for Democrats?
Yes, most Latinos traditionally vote democratic, although there's a good percentage, maybe 20%, that vote Republican. It's a numbers game with declining non-Latino, white voters. They're saying, we'd rather just suppress Latino votes, period. For Chicanos Por La Causa, it is not a partisan issue because we think that the more Latinos vote, the better.
For us, it is not to get everyone to vote democratic. That's not what we're talking about. We want more participation in our democracy, but there is no doubt that this is a result of people seeing that the changing in demographics is going to have a change in political power for the parties.
What are the most important issues for the Latino community?
We have a lot of number one issues. It doesn't go down in descending order. Affordable housing is the number one issue, but also a number one issue is education. Education is key to changing generational wealth and it plays into workforce development, which is also important. And then of course health and small businesses and entrepreneurship that are super important for Latinos.
Latinos are driving the small business market, with many women owned businesses. We can't escape either the impact that COVID has had hitting the Latino community especially hard, not just from the health side and contracting the virus, but also economically on hitting the small businesses.
We're very much trying to find ways to help those small businesses too.
What is Chicanos por La Causa doing to raise awareness for the upcoming elections and getting the Latino community out to vote?
We're involved in the redistricting battle because we know that in the Census, Latinos were undercounted, like in Arizona and other states, and as a result, Arizona didn't get an extra congressional seat, which probably would have gone democratic. But that means that we still have to fight the Arizona Independent Redistricting Committee, which has a lot of power on how the lines are drawn and that often determine who wins elections.
We are there trying to protect the Latino vote and perhaps expand it because of the growing numbers of Latinos, but there is no Latino representation on the Redistricting Committee. None, even though Latinos make up a quarter of eligible voters in Arizona, there's not one on their executive leadership team either.
There were no committee meetings or public hearings held in heavily Latino neighborhoods, such as here in Phoenix, Laveen, Maryvale, and South Phoenix. Areas where there's Latinos, there was no public hearings held and everything was kind of done on a digital stance. We know the digital divide excludes many Latinos because they don't have computers at home and so forth.
There was no special hearing held for Latino communities of interest, there was for Native Americans, but none for Latinos. We're fighting and we're going to help draw the maps. Hopefully, not only protect Latino voting districts in power, but hopefully expand it a little bit. Again, this is not a Republican or Democratic issue because we know the Democrats are going to protect what's good for that party and the Republicans are going to protect what's good for that party, regardless of Latino communities, but we're about Latino communities.
We are involved in getting people registered to vote and then getting them to turn out to vote. It's going to be especially challenging because the pandemic. Once again, we're facing those high numbers, and it's very difficult to have that kind of heavy drive and campaigning during a pandemic.
There is also that natural drop-off that happens anyway when it comes to midterm elections. The challenges are great, but that means that we just have to double down on the efforts. The worst thing that could happen is that we get complacent and think that Latino's are just going to show up to vote in this election. It doesn't happen that way. You have to work twice as hard in a midterm election.
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