Election volunteers want Latinos to know that voting is good for them

Huntington Park, California. – 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 weren’t home or answered the door. Those in attendance expressed strong opinions about Joe Biden and Donald Trump and inquired about the pro-choice and clean air initiatives that are on the California ballot on November 8.

One young man rejected Flores, saying he doubted his vote would count.

Like other volunteers sent that day by AltaMed, a large chain of community clinics, Flores wore a black baseball cap and a T-shirt that read “My vote. My health”; And, below, in Spanish, “My vote. My health”.

Their goal was to encourage residents to vote, even if they hadn’t already, so they could be fairly represented on City Council in Sacramento and beyond.

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

In recent years, health care institutions across the United States have made efforts to promote voting, motivated by the growing belief that voting improves the health of individuals and communities.

The American Medical Association supports this idea. In this election, AltaMed, with an active civic engagement department, targeted more than a quarter of registered voters in Los Angeles and Orange counties, the majority of whom are from the Latino community. It has offered early voting slots at a dozen clinics and plans to mobilize volunteers through Election Day.

“Our problems are often triggered or exacerbated by factors in our daily lives, the air we breathe, the places we live, the food we eat,” says Alia Bhatia, executive director of Vote-ER, a non-profit organization. 700 hospitals and clinics across the country, including AltaMed, to encourage patients and staff to vote. “Vote-ER’s work allows patients to be part of a process, to step forward, to help shape the policies that affect our health.”

Despite its potential as an electoral force, voting in Latino communities can be challenging. The Latino population has quadrupled in the past four decades and now comprises 19% of the US population. In California, Latinos make up more than 39% of the population, more than non-Hispanic whites, and make them the largest racial or ethnic group in the state.

However, voter turnout among Latinos lags behind other groups. Their turnout in the 2020 election is more than 14 percentage points lower than the state’s total voting-age population, according to data from the Center for Inclusive Democracy at the University of Southern California’s Sol Price School of Public Policy.

Huntington Park resident Brian Martinez, registered as a Democrat, expressed concern about air quality. He said that many of his friends have asthma. (Bernard J. Wolfson/KHN)

Jonathan Flores and his colleagues Veronica Ramirez (left) and Mayra Suarez, pollsters for AltaMed Health Services, stop on a street in Huntington Park, Calif., to check their devices for addresses of registered voters in hopes of being able to talk to them. Huntington Park’s population is 97% Hispanic. (Bernard J. Wolfson/KHN)

According to researchers and Latino advocacy groups, many factors explain why Latinos are less likely to vote, including feelings of cultural and linguistic marginalization, mistrust of government, high poverty rates and a younger population. Another important factor, they say, is the lack of opportunities for political campaigning and other electoral activities.

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

“It makes the difference between whether they’re actually going to vote or not,” said Mindy Romero, director of the Center for Inclusive Democracy.

In neighboring Los Angeles, concerted outreach to Latinos by mayoral candidate Rick Caruso, a billionaire developer, could play a decisive role in his race to lead a city where Latinos make up nearly half the population. After trailing by double-digits in the early going, Caruso has overtaken her opponent, state 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 meets us where we are, in our businesses, where we shop, where we eat. He tells us that he sees us and listens to us,” said Nilja Serrano, president of the Avance Democratic Club, a prominent Latino organization that has come under scrutiny for its support of Caruso. “I think our community is fed up and a little tired of not being heard.”

For some residents of Huntington Park, where 97% of residents are Latino, mainly of Mexican descent, the upcoming election was not the most important issue.

Maria Robles, 28, who was born here to Mexican immigrant parents, was confused when asked about her party affiliation. “I don’t know. Is it a Democrat?” he asked, speaking through the door’s peephole. Robles said he voted for President Biden in the last election but now regrets it and if he could do it over again, he would vote for former President Donald Trump.

Surveys show that health care is a top concern among Latinos, although it is overshadowed by factors such as inflation and the economy. Latinos are more likely to be uninsured. They have high rates of diabetes and obesity. And they have been hit hard by Covid.

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

An example is the Inflation Reduction Act which, among other things, caps the monthly cost of insulin for Medicare beneficiaries at $35. Democrats wanted to extend the insulin cap to people with private insurance, but Senate Republicans blocked it, denying benefits to millions.

“Yet very few Democrats are talking about it on the campaign trail,” said Rodrigo Domínguez-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 policy that would benefit your grandfather, your father, your uncle, your cousin.'”

Environment is another major concern. Residents of Huntington Park and surrounding towns, almost all of which are overwhelmingly Latino, live with air and soil pollution from nearby heavy industry and traffic along Interstate 710, with highway corridors filled with diesel trucks carrying goods. from two of the country’s busiest ports.

Huntington Park resident Brian Martinez was excited 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 forest fire prevention programs. .

“It’s something that really interests me,” Martinez, 32, said. “The amount of pollution that comes with the air here is amazing. I have many friends who suffer from asthma.”

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

“Women should have the right to choose for themselves, and they should be able to take what they need to in order to not get pregnant,” said Gallegos, 68.

Speaking with Flores and two of his AltaMed colleagues on the porch of his home, Gallegos said it was important that people vote and that he would 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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