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Voices

This Campaign Empowers the Latino Community by Finally Making it Easy to Vote

The Power of 18 uses a mobile-friendly voter tool to energize communities ahead of the 2018 midterm election.

by Alice Rowsome
Apr 16 2018, 5:00pm

Image via Facebook

Over 800,000 Latino Americans will turn 18 this year—and become eligible to vote. As a result, UnidosUS, the Latino advocacy group is channelling its efforts to register young Latinos ahead of this year's midterm elections with a voter registration campaign called The Power of 18. A U.S. civil rights organization, the UnidosUS is focused on increasing opportunities for the Latino community. “One of the ways to increase the voice of the community is to increase their engagement in the electoral process,” Clarissa Martinez De Castro, Deputy Vice President of UnidosUS told VICE Impact.

As part of our VOTE NOW campaign, which looks at ways to expand voting right and turnout, VICE Impact spoke to De Castro to find out more about how UnidosUS is planning to register hundreds of thousands of young Latino voters this year.

VICE Impact: 66,000 Latinos turn 18 (voting age) every month . How do you plan to get them all registered in time for the 2018 midterm elections?

Clarissa Martinez De Castro: We are acutely aware that one size doesn't fit all. We work with members of our network of community-based organizations. We help them provide the tools to help them register the people that they serve. Some of them run community health clinics, some of them run development centers and schools. And we do community canvassing programs where people from the community go out and invite people to register to vote.

"It was important to create online content that would allow Latinos to register in the palm of their hands."

We also have a High School Democracy Project where we work with students, teachers and administrators. The aim is to ensure that as students graduate, they are registered to cast their vote and become active citizens. Through this program, we help young people investigate how our democracy works and provide them with the tools they need to register, not only themselves but also their family.


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How did you design the High School Democracy Project to ensure it would engage students?

It was designed with students, teachers and high-school administrators -- not for them but with them. We worked with educators who are experts in developing educational programs but also with students who helped provide feedback. They designed it together and road-tested it together and wrote what worked and what didn't work.

There is a perception that Latinos don’t vote. The reality is that we have a registration challenge.

It takes two minutes to register via the mobile voter registration app that you recently launched. Why was developing this online tool so critical?

The Power of 18 is a mobile-friendly website. What was important to us too was creating this platform in a culturally appropriate way. For example, focusing on questions people in our Latino community might have. We also work hard on disseminating the information via social media to get the information into the hands of the people who can vote.

It was important to create online content that would allow Latinos to register in the palm of their hands.

The Latino voter turnout rate held steady at 47.6 percent in 2016 despite expectations heading into Election Day of a long-awaited, historic surge in Latino voters. What are the challenges in getting young Latinos to register and vote?

There is a perception that Latinos don’t vote. The reality is that we have a registration challenge.

There are many Latinos that are eligible to vote but not registered, and many who turn up to vote on the day to find out that they are not registered.

"Vote for your family, vote for your community, vote for your country."

Providing communities with more information of their ability to -- depending on the state they reside in -- vote early or vote on weekends or vote by mail is really important. Because we’re talking about a community where sometimes there are going to be transportation or time or job constraints that don’t allow people to get to the polls on the times that the polls are open.

And the other thing, frankly, which I think is true for Latinos in general and young people, is that the vast amount of money that circulates during an election cycle is highly partisan. It’s all about candidates’ campaigns or this party versus that party. Whereas we know that young voters are moved by issues, particularly in the Latino communities.

A call-to-action, which encourages people to vote in solidarity with their community is something that energizes our young people. More than telling them to vote for that party or this party. We say, ‘Vote for your family, vote for your community, vote for your country.’

So your work is nonpartisan?

Yes. Our work is non-partisan. Our candidate is the Latino voter. We want more people exercising and elevating their voice, in the street, in congress or through state legislators. Investment in making sure voters who are eligible are registered is, frankly, anemic.

Voting is one way to make elected representatives accountable.

I am a firm believer that having a strong civil society is what makes a country work. It is what allows you to assure that those who seek to represent people are held accountable. Voting is one way to make elected representatives accountable.

How can readers support Power of 18?

With technology, each of us can be an agent of change. We may all know one person that is not registered to vote. Share Power of 18 and encouraging people register. And make it a fun thing. Go with a friend to vote on election day.

Download the High School Democracy Project curriculum. If you have a strong opinion on how the government should be run, don't just talk about it— take action. Make sure you're registered to vote so that you can have your voice heard. Then show up on Election Day in local and federal races to make your vote count. VICE Impact has partnered with TurboVote to get people registered, sign up today to have an effect on tomorrow.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.