Election canvassers want Latinos to know that voting is good for their health

HUNTINGTON PARK, Calif. — Jonathan Flores spent a sunny Saturday in late October knocking on the doors of registered voters in this predominantly Latino working-class town in southeast Los Angeles County. Most people were not home or came to the door. Some of those who expressed strong opinions about Joe Biden and Donald Trump and are interested in abortion rights and clean-air initiatives are on the California ballot for the Nov. 8 election. One young man gave Flores a brush-off, saying he doubted his vote would count.

AltaMed Health Services Corp., a large chain of community clinics. Like the other canvassers sent that day, Flores wore a black baseball cap and a T-shirt that read “My Vote.” My health.” Below, it reads the same in Spanish, “Mi Voto. I salute you.” His goal was to urge residents to cast their ballots, even if they never vote, so they can be fairly represented at City Hall, Sacramento and beyond.

“I think I’ve seen communities — people who look like me, like my parents — struggle a lot,” said Flores, 31, whose mother and father were born in Mexico and now live in the Central Valley. “So getting to the root of these issues is what really made me do this.”

Health care institutions across the United States have stepped up voting efforts in recent years, motivated by a growing belief that voting improves the health of individuals and communities. The American Medical Association has endorsed that idea. AltaMed, with an active civic engagement department, targeted registered voters in Los Angeles and Orange County in this election, most of them from the Latino community. It has offered early voting at a dozen clinics and plans to send out canvassers leading up to Election Day.

“Our problems are often triggered – or exacerbated – by factors in our daily lives, from the air we breathe, to where we live, to the food we eat” 700 hospitals and clinics in the US, including AltaMed, to encourage patients and staff to vote has “Vote-ER’s work helps patients be part of the upstream process to shape the policies that affect our health.”

Getting out the vote in Latino communities can be challenging, despite their potential as an electoral force. The Latino population has quadrupled in the last four decades and now makes up 19% of the US population. In California, Latinos make up more than 39% of the population, surpassing the share of non-Hispanic whites and making them the state’s largest racial or ethnic group.

However, voter participation among Latinos continues to trail other groups. Their turnout in the 2020 election was more than 14 percentage points lower than the state’s eligible voter population, according to data from the Center for Inclusive Democracy at the University of Southern California’s Sol Price School of Public Policy.

Researchers and Latino advocacy groups cite a variety of factors that inhibit Latino voting, including feelings of cultural and linguistic marginalization, mistrust of government, a disproportionately high poverty rate, and a low average population. Another key factor, they say, is the lack of publicity through political campaigns and other electoral agencies.

In a recent survey by the Latino Community Foundation, 71% of California Latino residents said they had not contacted a political party, campaign or other organization this year.

“It makes a difference whether they’re actually going to vote,” said Mindy Romero, director of the Center for Inclusive Democracy.

In neighboring Los Angeles, mayoral candidate Rick Caruso, a billionaire developer, has made a strong effort to court Latinos, who could play a decisive role in leading a city where they account for nearly half the population. After trailing by double digits early on, Caruso has pulled even his opponent, U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, according to a recent poll published by the Southern California News Group.

Notably, 43.7% of Latino voters said they would support Caruso, compared to 29.4% for Bass.

“He is meeting us where we are, in our businesses, where we shop, where we eat. He’s telling us that he sees us and he hears us,” said Nilja Serrano, president of the Avance Democratic Club of L.A. County, a Latino organization that has scrutinized Caruso’s endorsement. “I think our community is fed up and a little tired of not being heard.”

Huntington Park resident Brian Martinez, a registered Democrat, expressed concern about air pollution affecting his community, saying many of his friends have asthma. (Bernard J. Wolfson/KHN)

Canvasser Jonathan Flores of AltaMed Health Services pauses with colleagues Veronica Ramirez (left) and Mayra Suarez on a street in Huntington Park, Calif., to consult digital tablets containing the names and addresses of registered voters who want to talk about the election. Huntington Park’s population is 97% Hispanic or Latino. (Bernard J. Wolfson/KHN)

In Huntington Park, where 97% of residents are Hispanic or Latino, mainly of Mexican descent, the upcoming election was not top of mind for some residents.

Maria Robles, 28, who was born here to Mexican immigrants, was confused when asked about her party affiliation. “I don’t know. Is it the Democrats?” she asked speaking through the screen door in front of her. Robles said he voted for Biden in the last election but now regrets it and would vote for Trump instead if he could do it over.

Surveys show that health care is a major concern among Latinos, although it is overshadowed by concerns about inflation and the economy. Latinos are more likely to be uninsured than other residents. Nationally, they have high rates of diabetes and obesity. And their communities have been hit hard by Covid-19.

But political campaigns repeatedly fail to connect Latinos’ health care concerns to the polls, Romero said.

One example is the Inflation Reduction Act, which, among other things, caps the monthly cost of insulin at $35 for Medicare beneficiaries. Democrats wanted to apply the insulin cap to privately insured people as well, but that provision was blocked by Republicans in the Senate, denying benefits to millions.

“Yet very few Democrats are talking about it on the campaign trail,” said Rodrigo Dominguez-Villegas, director of research at UCLA’s Latino Policy and Politics Institute. “I mean, the ad itself says: ‘We tried to pass this for everybody, but the Republicans opposed this particular policy that would benefit your uncle, your grandmother, your father, your cousin.'”

Environment is another significant concern. Residents of Huntington Park and surrounding towns, almost all overwhelmingly Latino, have lived for decades with air and soil pollution from nearby heavy industry and traffic along Interstate 710, a freeway corridor that transports the nation’s goods with diesel-powered trucks. Two of the busiest ports.

Huntington Park resident Brian Martinez became animated when he learned about Proposition 30, a state measure that would impose an additional 1.75% tax on personal income over $2 million to subsidize the purchase of zero-emission vehicles, electric charging stations and wildfire prevention programs. .

“It’s something I’m very interested in,” said the 32-year-old Martinez. It’s amazing how much pollution comes here with the air. I have many friends who suffer from asthma.”

Californians are being asked to vote on an initiative, Proposition 1, that would cement abortion rights in the state constitution — a response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade. Numerous polls show that Latinos strongly support abortion rights, including a Latino Community Foundation survey, in which 61% of Latinos in California favor Proposition 1.

Margarita Gallegos, a Huntington Park resident who was born in Mexico and immigrated to the United States nearly 50 years ago, expressed strong support for abortion rights.

“There are people who have been abused and don’t want to have children,” Gallegos, 68, said in Spanish. “Women should have the right to choose for themselves and be able to take what they need to take so they don’t get pregnant.”

Speaking to Flores and two of his AltaMed colleagues from his front porch, Gallegos said it’s important for people to vote and he will definitely cast his ballot.

This story was produced by KHN, which publishes California Healthline, the editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation.

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