https://thehill.com/opinion/campaign/3639611-both-parties-can-and-should-leverage-the-latino-vote/

As the 2022 midterms season becomes increasingly competitive, Latinos are poised to play an especially decisive role in determining control of Congress and statehouses from coast to coast. It is past time for both Democrats and Republicans to accept that this voting bloc matters. 

Despite the growth of diverse Latino communities around the country, Latino turnout in this year’s primary elections was low, particularly in states with some of the biggest Latino populations. As November approaches, it is time for both parties to understand why — and to do the hard work necessary to win the support of our communities.

There is a myth in American politics that Latinos do not care about or understand the importance of voting. In reality, Latinos are extremely engaged and active in their communities — and deeply invested in securing brighter futures for their families. Yet many Latinos simply do not see voting as an effective tool to help change their lives.  

Too often, candidates for office ignore Latino communities, or they may attempt tone-deaf outreach efforts driven by stereotypical and antiquated assumptions about the issues that Latinos care about most and the way to best communicate with them. As has become apparent in recent election cycles, not all Latinos feel the same way about all issues — and not all Latinos vote the same way. The issues that are important to a first-generation Cuban American man in Southern Florida are different from those that are important to a third-generation Mexican American woman who grew up in Southern California. Because of this, subsequent voter engagement styles should be different, too.

Many Latinos feel abandoned by the political system. They cannot help but remember promises made and broken with each election. But it is the job of candidates to demonstrate to Latinos that meaningful change is possible.  

To be fair, both the Democratic and Republican parties have made some commendable recent investments in better communicating with Latinos. The Republican Party has put significant resources in key regions such as South Texas and Florida, along with opening Hispanic community centers in major Latino communities nationwide. Democrats have invested millions in national voter education and protection efforts and made seven-figure ad buys across nine battleground states. 

But it is still not enough. While Latino turnout is projected to slightly increase in some states this November, voter turnout in key state primaries has been low. In California, only 15 percent of eligible Latinos voted in this year’s primary election. And even with investments by both parties in Florida, Latino turnout in last month’s primary was seven points below where it was in 2018.

So, how can candidates and campaigns do better in 2022 and beyond?

First, talk to us. Research shows that Latino voters often receive minimal outreach from political campaigns. Ahead of the highly-contested Los Angeles mayoral primary election, a recent NALEO Educational Fund poll found that nearly two-thirds of Latino registered voters had not been contacted by any mayoral candidates through any form of voter outreach. In another recent survey of Latino voters across Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Texas and Florida, nearly half of Latino voters said they had not been contacted by any campaign. 

Second, listen to us and avoid assumptions. Our community is often portrayed as consistently voting one way or another, but we are a diverse community. Recent national surveys have shown that the biggest issues Latino voters are concerned with are crime and gun violence, jobs and the rising cost of living, and health care. Political outreach needs to be responsive to this reality — and there are few better ways to understand how to implement these outreach efforts than by having high-ranking Latino campaign staffers. Take a look at Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who went into the 2020 Democratic primary with the highest Latino support of any candidate, thanks largely in part to the more than 200 Latino staffers and consultants on his campaign payroll. 

Finally, policymakers must come together to fund public voter information efforts and provide political engagement resources for Latino communities. Making voting easier for all Americans — including Latinos — should be a priority for anyone with political power. As it stands, limits imposed on mail-in voting, early voting, and ballot drop boxes are additional roadblocks for all voters that impede our democratic process. Also related to election accessibility, Spanish-language election resources should be provided in communities where required by the federal Voting Rights Act.

Ultimately, engaging Latino voters is not just about one candidate winning one election in one jurisdiction. A country of engaged and responsive voters, which has the potential to encompass nearly 32 million eligible Latino voters nationwide, is vital to the viability of our democracy. But the problem of low Latino voter engagement is not something we can fix overnight; we need consistent cultural awareness, thoughtfulness, and dedication from candidates and staffers across the country. With Latinos firmly establishing themselves as the nation’s second-largest group of eligible voters, neither party can afford to ignore them any longer.  

Arturo Vargas is the CEO of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund.

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