The Heartland Workers Center’s theme for the Get out the Vote campaign is “I Vote for My Family”.
Sergio Sosa, Executive Director for the Heartland Workers Center, says they chose the theme because many Latinos have strong familial ties or ties to the small cities they are from.
“Every vote counts and every vote will somehow affect people’s families and the issues they care the most about. People my age who are voting are teaching our kids, the next generation of voters, leaders and political officials, that we are living in this country and we need be part of the political system as well and participate in it,” said Sosa.
He explained there are three reasons the Latino vote is so important. The first is that Latinos care about their families. Secondly, the Latino population has been increasing across the US. But Sosa said having numbers doesn’t mean anything if Latinos don’t get into public life and civic participation. He said all naturalized citizens need to vote.
Finally, Sosa said when Latinos vote, it shows there is a collective power that politicians should pay attention to, “It shows that we are becoming players, that we are becoming protagonists and that we are invisible no more.”
The goal of the “I Vote for My Family” campaign is to get Latinos to the polls. Sosa said HWC is engaging themselves in this process by giving out educational materials, talking to Latinos about how the political system works and training other organizations how to canvass and use phone banks.
For their Get out the Vote campaign, the HWC is going door-to-door canvassing neighborhoods, talking to eligible Latino voters. Sosa explained they’re registering people to vote, bringing them training materials, offering them candidate profiles to educate them, talking to them about deadlines and teaching them the election goes beyond voting for president.
“There are definitely local races people need to watch as well. We follow up with every registrant we have. We ask them what time they will vote on Election Day and then call to remind them in advance,” Sosa said.
He said canvassers are working Monday through Thursday from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. and Saturdays from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
“Among our leaders in the community, they were able to raise $3,000 to support our campaign. We also applied for grants to assist as well. Between the funds raised and our volunteers, we have maximized our efforts. We picked eight precincts around Ward 4 to canvas,” said Sosa.
These are precincts where the majority of Latinos are living. Though many of these residents are eligible to vote, turnout is usually low. In the midterm elections, Ward 4 increased its voter participation by 26% which is really good compared with 2008.
But Sosa said there’s still a lot of work to do, “We’ve got to get people to the polls, not just teach them how the political system works, but also help them understand the culture of civic engagement goes beyond voting. Voting is the first step to keep fighting for the issues you are concerned about the most.”
He said that being part of schools and attending community meetings are also important.
HWC extends its efforts to multiple cities including Schuyler, Nebraska where more than 67% of the population is Latino.
“When we started this effort there, only 14 Latinos out of more than 900 were voting. After using this model of “I Vote for My Family,” 136 Latinos went to vote in the midterm elections in 2012. Voter participation improved more than 400%,” said Sosa.
And, for the first time in Schuyler, two Latinos are running for offices: one for the school board of education and one for the city council.
“Through our efforts, Latinos have been learning how important it is to be protagonists of their own lives and are taking a step up to run for positions,” he said.
Heartland Workers Center is developing leaders in each precinct so that, in the future, they won’t have to run the Get out the Vote campaign alone. He said they are working with a coalition of 14 religious institutions and nonprofits. They are training the Latino Center for the Midlands and showing them what they can do themselves during the next elections.
“We are teaching the 400 employees at OneWorld why civic engagement is so important. We have gone to churches and taught the pastors and leaders what they need to do as well. This work is easier if all of us engage ourselves collectively into GOTV efforts for the next election,” he said.
What are the big issues on the minds of Latinos this election year? Sosa said healthcare is number one because a lot of Latinos don’t have health insurance or they have a plan from the Healthcare Marketplace and they are worried about whether they’ll be able to keep it.
Immigration is the other major issue of concern because people want to keep their families united. Sosa said Latino voters are worried there could be a separation of families.
Going into the municipal elections in 2017, Sosa said voters are concerned about street conditions, potholes, garbage collection, snow removal and housing.
Sosa admitted that Latinos do tend to vote in lower numbers than other ethnic groups. He said that one of the reasons Latinos do not vote is because they came to the United States thinking it would be like their country where voting includes corruption in the elections.
Another reason is because Latinos may believe their vote will not affect or is not related to the issues they care about or because they believe nothing is going to change.
“In our native countries, we may end up voting because a politician came to our house and gave us a basket of food or soccer balls or offered to fix our house. They buy our votes,” he said.
Many Latinos are used to multiple political parties as well. In Sosa’s own Guatemala, there were 21 political parties participating in the last election, even in the presidential race. This can make any election seem daunting to new US voters.
One practical reason Latinos don’t vote has to do with a lack of time to get to the polls.
“People need to work so hard that many times they have two or three jobs. Sometimes they don’t know their schedules,” said Sosa.
The language barrier is also a problem. Sosa explained that before the Heartland Workers Center started their Get out the Vote campaigns, there wasn’t much information available in Spanish. So the HWC built an alliance with the Douglas County Election Commission. They are sending bilingual people there to train them to become political poll workers during the election.
“A new voter will come and he or she can speak with someone in their own language. That really helps,” Sosa said.
He said the HWC knows they will definitely have at least two bilingual poll workers in precincts around Ward 4. They have also met with the Sarpy County Election Commission and plan to have bilingual poll workers there as well. These individuals will be placed in two precincts where Sarpy County has a lot of Latinos coming to cast their votes.
Sosa said he believes HWC’s efforts are working, “The number of early voters we have been collecting has been increasing as well as the number of voter registration forms.”