Op-Ed: Obstacles to Latino Voter Participation

Op-Ed: Obstacles to Latino Voter Participation

 

By: Eddie Cuesta, New York Director, Dominicanos USA

 

Every four years for the past several decades we have been told by political writers and pundits that the Latino vote is a “sleeping giant” that “punches below its weight” and needs to be “woken up”. But there may be a more appropriate metaphor for this underrepresented constituency than those you typically hear: a caged lion. Latino voters are eager to participate by voting, but have been faced with numerous obstacles on their way to full integration in the electoral process in the United States. For this reason, Dominicanos USA, recognized for its cutting edge voter registration model, stands for giving voters a stake in local and national elections and as such, a stake in their own future and a voice in decisions affecting their lives.

 

In first-of its kind, ground-breaking research commissioned by Dominicanos USA and executed by Latino Decisions, many Dominican-Americans surveyed said they believe there are considerable barriers to participation that keep them from fully integrating into civic life and that more advocacy would help in that regard.

 

These barriers come in many forms such as misinformation, disinterest or incompetence on the part of government officials, lax enforcement of standards and protocol, and the overall lack of resources invested in the process by those in power.

 

Voter suppression often conjures up images of overt, partisan marginalization of vulnerable communities. Scare tactics disguised as efforts to uphold the “integrity” of the vote are standard. Still worse are voter ID laws that target the already challenged participant from exercising their right to vote- masked as regulation and civic vigilance favoring a privileged class.

 

However, there are other ways that the vote can be suppressed. Half-hearted attempts to inform the public of changes that will directly impact their voting experience, be it last minute precinct location changes, or lack of notifications, seem typical. The lack of trained poll workers and volunteers versed in Spanish-language voting procedures and insufficient resources at the ready on Election Day is the rule rather than the exception.

 

Inaction, however, is unacceptable.

 

To remedy these challenges will first require the acknowledgment of missteps on the part of state and local officials. These challenges, however, present opportunities for improvement.

 

Solutions may seem simple, but are not always easy to achieve. Our greatest challenge may be finding the leadership that will champion these changes and take up the mantle of voter protection. But far from expecting our government to do the right thing, the best solution comes from the people- the hands of engaged civic leaders and community members willing to mobilize.

 

Through our ongoing voter registration and voter mobilization efforts, Dominicanos USA is leading by example. Already we have registered nearly 120,000 Dominican-Americans in New York and Rhode Island in our first two years of voter registration. As a data-driven effort geared toward registering and mobilizing Dominican-American voters to participate in US elections at all levels in key states across the country, we are able to meet the voters where they live, work, shop, eat, and gather.  Our efforts have been successful thus far because we are of the community, by the community and for the community.  

 

But Dominicanos USA sees an increased need to speak to a growing population of Americans eager to fulfill their civic duty. We fear their full participation is being stymied by negligence on the part of officials to support voters looking to exercise their most central right as American citizens.  This can and needs to be fixed, and Dominicanos USA stands ready to be a resource to our elected and appointed officials to help them do their job of empowering Americans to have their voices heard.  We can succeed by working together on this important endeavor, and we will be a much more powerful democracy as a result.

 

Dominicanos USA (DUSA) is a 501C-3 non-profit and nonpartisan organization established to empower, educate, and mobilize Dominican – Americans to become registered and vote. We are the first ever Dominican-American voter model to yield more than 100,000 registered voters in New York and Rhode Island.

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