While the news may be filled with stories on the 2008 presidential race and there remains just a little over a month before votes will be tallied and a victor declared, there are still many who say they are not yet sure who will get their vote, or even if they should vote at all.
The fact that neither of the two main candidates, Sen. Barack Obama for the Democrats and Sen. John McCain for the Republicans have spent little time personally campaigning in California is no reason to not get involved, say surrogates working on their campaigns and others just interested in making sure Latinos get out and vote.
The clock is running out for those trying to reach voters who, for one reason or another may be reluctant to cast their vote or to participate actively in the campaign. They still hope they can change some minds.
Not everyone understands the importance of their vote, or that it’s a right, say voting rights advocates.
“Everybody has the right to vote,” said Juan Garcia, a member of the non-profit Huntington Park based Padres del Sureste (Parents of the Southeast). “To begin, we must participate because a person who does not participate will not [have their views] taken into account.” If you want your view represented, you must vote, he says.
In the United States, any individual who is a legal citizen, a U.S. resident age 18 or older, who has not had their voting right revoked because of a felony conviction, is eligible to vote.
The presidential election is not the only matter of importance on the ballot, say get out the vote activists.
There are a number of very important ballot propositions that will impact residents in a variety of ways, including measures dealing with health, security, and education, legislative redistricting and gay marriage, and tax increases to name a few.
Newly sworn-in citizens, the bulk from Mexico and other Latin American countries, have added more than a million more voters to the voter rolls, but to make any kind of impact, they must actually vote.
A diverse group of organizations and independent groups in Los Angeles are working to encourage people to vote in the next election. They represent a variety of viewpoints and political affiliations, groups like the national Southwest Voter Registration and the local Padres del Sureste. Through citizenship workshops, radio programs, door-to-door precinct walking, leafleting and other activities, their goal is to ensure massive voter turnout on Nov. 4.
“One of the things that we are going to do now is to educate the community,” about the items on the ballot, said Ana Haney, another Padres del Sureste member. “A lot of people do not vote because the propositions on the ballots are not clearly explained. People do not understand them and, therefore, they do not vote,” she said.
Whereas many voters born in this country find it difficult to sift through the mounds of information and misinformation circulated by interested parties on both sides of the proposition debates and the presidential campaigns, it is that much harder for immigrants whose command of the English language may be more limited.
Some of those working hardest to reach them are not even eligible to vote, they are not yet American citizens, but they are deeply interested in the outcome of the election.
Their numbers are growing say organizers. Many say they have a huge stake in the election, whether it’s about immigration or education, their lives are here, their future is in the United States.
“I wish I could vote, but I’m not a citizen yet,” said Maria Gonzalez of East Los Angeles. “But my children are, and I have to fight for their future. If I could vote, I would. But I can’t, so instead I try to convince people who can vote not to waste it, to have a say,” she said passionately. “I am getting informed and I am telling others about the issues, I am trying to educate them.”
Gonzalez is not alone.
Increasingly people, who wish to participate but are unable to vote, are getting involved, either at the organizational level, or just as individuals like Gonzalez, who said she talks to the parents of her children’s friends, relatives and members of her church.
Being a citizen would give them the opportunity to exert their voice in the form of a vote, but in the meantime, they must find other ways to be represented.
Not being citizen, however, does not have to be an obstacle to supporting a presidential candidate, said Padres del Sureste member Esther Guzman. Even if you can’t vote, you can help raise awareness, she said.
“Although I do not vote, I gather all the voters in my family” and explain what’s at stake in the election, said Guzman. “I think that those who do not vote can get more voters,” to participate.
In some ways, we are more passionate about the election, we feel it deeper,” said Gonzalez. “When you don’t have the right, it’s not as easy to take it for granted, at least not for me,” she said.
Many Latinos believe that voting is the only way they will be heard. Many of those that EGP spoke to said they are motivated to vote especially if it means they can help influence issues that are important to those who cannot vote, members of their family, close friends or co-workers; issues such as immigration reform, college tuition, financial aid and health care.
“There are others who are not citizens but participate because they are Latinos,” said Garcia. “We cannot vote but we support all those who can vote by supporting ideas,” and by getting the word out about what’s at stake in this election, he said.