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Blame the Pandemic: Latino voters in Dallas not showing up to get registered

Julio Acosta sits waiting for hours for Latinos to arrive asking to register as voters … and nobody comes.

Acosta is a volunteer with Somos Tejas, an organization providing help to Hispanic communities in North Texas. Every Saturday in September, Acosta volunteers to register people to vote and encourage them to fill out the census.

“Some of us Hispanic citizens are privileged to be eligible voters,” Acosta said.

“That’s why we have to do it — to vote for our parents, our brothers and sisters, our cousins, uncles and any other person who is not a citizen and cannot vote.”

In Texas, 30.4% of the population eligible to vote is Latino (5,628,000 out of a total of 18,510,000 citizens older than 18), according to the Pew Research Center.

Even though registering to vote is easy, Acosta said, the process can discourage many.

In Texas, voter registration isn’t available online.

Would-be voters have to download a form online and mail it to their county’s voter registration office.

Forms are also available in public libraries and some post offices.

Applicants will later receive a voter card proving they are already registered as voters, which they can use as one of the accepted IDs.

The deadline to register for the Nov. 3 election is Oct. 5.

But for people to complete the registration process on time, they have to start it as soon as possible.

“There’s a huge lack of information. Our people are always working, and yes, I know you have to pay your bills, to pay your rent, pay for food and many other things. But we also have to participate and elect our leaders,” Acosta said.

In past years, there has been a bigger turnout to register, he said. Now, with COVID-19, those numbers are waning.

“We’re going to do our best to get people interested and register to vote. But things are more difficult right now.”

The Afiya Center is focused on getting Black voters registered for the November elections.

Even though they have installed their kiosks in communities with heavily Hispanic populations, like DeSoto and Duncanville, turnout by Latinos has been scant.

While the group is focused on the Black population, they always bring forms in Spanish so Hispanic citizens feel encouraged to register.

“During the last weeks, I have registered a total of 51 people. Of them, just five have been Latinos,” said Charity Rigdon, an activist for the group.

More difficult without large events

The coronavirus pandemic has become a hurdle in trying to register a larger number of voters, including Latinos, who already are under-represented.

In past elections, voter registration efforts were a regular feature at massive events like concerts or celebrations, where activists would set up stands to register voters.

In October 2016, for instance, groups set up voter registration stands at a sellout concert for the legendary Mexican rock group Maná at the American Airlines Center.

Now, restrictions for these types of events, where many Latinos previously registered to vote, make similar efforts difficult.

Edgar Saldívar, a lawyer and activist for ACLU Texas, acknowledged the pandemic has been a challenge for voter registration drives. But there are alternatives, he said.

“In the past, you’d do that in person in parades or large events. But now, because of social distance rules, that won’t be possible,” Saldívar said. “Now, each one of us have to step up and do what is needed so you can vote.”

Groups like his have been focusing their efforts on educating people on how to register to vote. Those efforts will continue over the next two weeks, as groups do their best to get more people registered to vote in November.

Voto Latino success

One group that has had success despite the pandemic is Voto Latino. Nationally, the group has registered more than 250,000 voters, including nearly 150,000 in Texas alone as of August.

Maria Teresa Kumar, the group’s president and CEO, said knowing their target audience has been crucial. Seventy percent of the voters they register are between 18 and 34 and Voto Latino meets them where they are, including on social media like Twitter and Instagram.

After the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, she said, Voto Latino talked about police brutality and racism in the Latino culture on their social media. Those discussions resulted in 97,000 registered voters in June.

She said the future of the Latino vote is in the demographics her group targets and Voto Latino has built its infrastructure to reach those young voters directly.

“The people that I’m trying to mobilize are Latino kids who watch English content,” she said. “If we get them mobilized, they mobilize their family.”

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