TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The power of the Latino vote will play a critical role in this year’s presidential election, with a record 32 million voters. But less than half are expected to participate in the presidential election, according to the National Association of Elected and Appointed Officials.
“The Hispanic vote is sort of like the pendulum, which way they will go. And the way in which they break could determine the election,” University of South Florida Political Science Professor Dr. Ed Benton said.
Language barriers, not knowing the mail-in process and misinformation are obstacles this voting bloc faces and ones that several state and local groups are working to address. For the first time, Latinos are projected to form the nation’s largest minority voting bloc in a presidential election.
“Almost 20 percent of the Florida electorate and 13 percent across the country,” said Samuel Santiago, a campaign manager with All Voting is Local, a collaborative campaign housed at the Leadership Conference Education Fund.
He’s leading the group’s new campaign, “Pa’ Luego Es Muy Tarde! Vota!” – loosely translated to “The Sooner the Better, Vote!”
“Closing the information gap. We’ve seen in our communities, the reality is – particularly with Spanish-speaking voters – research shows that they’re overwhelmed,” said Santiago.
Pew research found 51% of Latino immigrant voters are proficient in English, compared to 81% of Black immigrant voters and 82% white immigrant voters.
Santiago says a lot of immigrants are not familiar with the mail-in voting process, mainly because it doesn’t exist in many Latin American countries. “Pa’ Luego Es Muy Tarde! Vota!” offers Spanish-language videos on its website explaining the voting process along with hotlines where anyone can call with questions and concerns.
“It’s very important because with everything going on with the coronavirus, we want to make sure that the Latino community knows that they can cast their ballot in a safe, secure and easy way in this upcoming election,” said Santiago.
Half of Latinos polled by the group Latino Decision said they hadn’t heard from anyone about voting in the general election. In Tampa, groups are doing what they can to inform eligible voters.
A Democratic group has mobilized in the heart of Tampa’s Latino community to campaign for Joe Biden and to educate the Hispanic community about their right to vote. They’ve set up shop at the former Tampa Tile Company on West Columbus Drive and call it Casa Biden.
“I don’t think we have been appropriately recognizing that this is the most important Hispanic constituent because of the nature of the battleground state of Florida, so I don’t think we’ve been investing enough in commercials, on the media here,” said Casa Biden Director Elio Muller, a Cuban-America who’s worked on more than 120 campaigns and served under the Bill Clinton administration.
Casa Biden volunteers are there every day organizing phone banks and putting together voting packets to deliver door to door.
“That it is not to them that it is with them that we are going to preserve the democracy of this country and the opportunity for Latinos to have the ability to advance their lives and their family in the way that we dream to,” said Muller.
On the other side of the political aisle, Vanessa Anderson created the New Tampa Republican Club to empower Latinos to get involved in politics and to support President Donald Trump. She’s Puerto Rican and Dominican, grew up in New York and leaned left at the polls until recently.
“I work as a notary and I see more than ever more Latinos applying for loans and things like that and that, for me, was my first red moment,” Anderson said. “When I saw that so many Latinos being able to have that success and actually have those opportunities available to them.”
She says the right to vote shouldn’t be taken for granted and is doing what’s in her power to get voters to submit a ballot early and by mail.
“We’ve been going door-to-door canvassing; we’ve been doing phone calls,” she said.
It’s a critical mission at a time the Latino voice is only getting louder.
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