Can the mayoral candidates get the Latino vote?
It was journalist Dante Chinni who said "elections reduce Americans to stereotypes" and for the Latino voter that translates nationally into "low turnout." We asked several local leaders to share their perspectives on the truths, assumptions and myths of Latino voting in Philadelphia.
“Work and access to education continue to be essential issues to our community. Unfortunately (disconnection from the Latino community) is true for many of the candidates running in this mayoral election. Their assumption of the Latino voter (is from when) turn-out was only 2 percent. (The Latino community) has been changing since 2006 … now (turn-out) is around 8.5 percent, which is going to be important for all the candidates. The Democratic party will need to do a better job than the one they have been doing in the past elections. Latinos also have another reason to come out vote since the 7th District which is currently represented by Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sanchez will have an opponent and she will be getting her voter base out as well as the person who will be running against her. So, if the mayoral candidates are discarding the Latino community I will advice them to think again and begin to start learning quickly what are the issues that matter to the Latino community. Also the Latino community is not just North Philadelphia. While (North Philadelphia) has the largest voting base, they have to think about the community in South Philly and West Philly that can, and will, come out to vote on this election. The issues that affect those communities are different from the one in the North.”
Miguel Concepción, Member of Latino Lines and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of The Lighthouse Inc.
“From a partisan perspective, a low Latino turnout is a reflection of the lack of strategic engagement by political campaigns. Language barriers and the community's own division should also be considered, but most of these issues are solved when a campaign has a strategic plan to engage Latino voters. For example, according to CNN exit polls, in the 2014 Pa. gubernatorial election, the Latino vote didn't increase at all compared to the governor's race in 2010, it was 3 percent in both elections. However, in the 2012 presidential campaign, the Latino vote increased by 50 percent compared to the presidential election of 2008, going from 4 percent to 6 percent. From a non-partisan perspective, I believe that nonprofit organizations, and even the City Commissioners, should be investing more money and creating better programs to educate and encourage citizen participation in the electoral process. An argument I have heard in the past is that national groups don't invest in Latino efforts in Pennsylvania/Philadelphia because our community is not big enough. My opinion is that these groups should be investing now precisely because we are a small community, and that investment will help to better shape a stronger, more educated Latino electorate.”
Fernando Treviño, Former State Director of Operation Vote, Obama for America-PA
“When I was working for the government of Puerto Rico, we had a voter registration campaign for three years in 12 cities across Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia, Reading, Lancaster, York, Erie, Harrisburg … we were able to increase Latino participation by 35 percent in all of our targeted divisions. One of the things we learned was the issue of bilingual ballots was important. We were part of a lawsuit in Philadelphia, and subsequently in Reading. Now we have bilingual ballots in Lancaster, York, Reading, Philadelphia and Allentown as a result. The other issue is, If you go back in the last 20 years, every single voter fraud scandal has been in our community. We’ve had absentee ballot fraud and voter registration fraud … so it has created an environment where people don’t believe the system works. Voter engagement is very difficult because we have to get people to believe that their vote matters. Candidates are not going to invest money in talking to our community or with our community if the turnout is horrible.”
María Quiñones-Sánchez, councilwoman of District 7
“Socioeconomic factors matter more than race and ethnicity. Yes, Latinos do show up at the voting booth in smaller numbers, but so do younger voters, less educated voters and low-income earners. Because these socioeconomic subgroups show up in higher percentages within the Latino community, it’s natural that our voter participation rates would be low. To drive home the point, one need only contrast the overall voter participation rates in the Latino community, with those of one of its higher-earning and more educated subgroups, Cubans. In the last election, nearly 70 percent of Cuban-Americans eligible to vote did so. Not sure one can regard such a high rate of participation as a disappointment. If we want to draw out more Latino voters — and we should want this — then we will need to focus our attention on understanding, generally, how issues of poverty and limited educational attainment impact voter participation and what strategies, regardless of race, are successfully driving up rates”
Farah Jimenez, Commissioner of the School Reform Commission
“We encourage and want folks of all walks of life to vote. As Philadelphians we still need to register in high numbers, but it is especially problematic in the Latino community. It is our job to make people more comfortable with the process and getting them engage, showing them and expressing to them the importance of voting. On the politician side, we should have great, strong, highly qualified Latino candidates running in every election. That will help drive interest in the community. We need to spend more time with Latinos generally, building coalitions. Not tearing each other down, but coming together as a community ... being behind each other, doing things to help us come together as a people, that helps drive interests. You got to give people a reason to come out. To me it is more about that than it is about already existing politicians doing something in their self interest.”
Rich Negrin, Deputy Mayor for Administration & Coordination and Managing Director