WASHINGTON, DC -- A coalition of Latino organizations from across the country today announced "Our Vote, Our Future" a nationwide mobilization effort aimed at the growing number of potential Latino voters. The announcement comes days before the pivotal Nevada caucus where Latino voters are expected to play a key role.
Nevada is considered a bellwether, or "swing" state and has picked presidential candidates in 31 of 38 presidential races. Latinos represent 28 percent of the state's population, and about 17 percent of eligible voters, up from 5 percent in 1994. It was the growth in the Latino vote that prompted the Democratic Party to move the date of the Nevada presidential primary vote in 2008 into third overall and the first in the West for a presidential election.
In 2016, more than 27 million Latinos will be eligible to vote, according to a recent Pew Hispanic report.
"This is a voter engagement partnership among leading Latino organizations to galvanize Latino voters," said Héctor Sánchez, executive director of the Labor Council for Latin American Achievement (LCLAA) and chair of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA). "The road to the White House includes the Latino vote. This is about unity," he said during a press conference in Washington, D.C. Wednesday.
"Never has our community been more under attack than today. Our time is now," said María Teresa Kumar, president and CEO of Voto Latino. "Our backs are against the wall. America is at its greatest when we are present at the voting booth."
The coalition includes nine Latino organizations, including Mi Familia Vota, the Hispanic Federation, Voto Latino, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund (NALEO), the Latino Victory Foundation and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR).
While this mobilization effort is rolling out just in time for the Nevada vote, coalition leaders say it goes beyond the Silver State.
"In the past two elections, Latinos have been decisive. Latinos are a significant portion in swing states. Nevada is just one example," says Arturo Vargas, NALEO Educational Fund executive director. "Every single Latino vote matters. We realize that If we want to mobilize our community we have to do it ourselves, and that's what we are doing now."
Several of the Latino groups made veiled references to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, saying comments early in the campaign blasting Mexicans serve as an impetus to get to the ballot box this November.
"For the first time we've had a candidate who's called out the community. We can't stand for that and we have to fight back," says Brent Wilkes, national director of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). "The entire nation is wondering will the Latino community mobilize, will it come out and fight, and we're here to say yes. That candidate is probably the largest mobilizer of Latino voters ever. We're not telling you who to vote for but we're telling you that you have to participate."
"We live in a day and age, and in an atmosphere of voter suppression that demonizes and targets the Latino community," added Thomas Sáenz, executive director of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF). Sáenz said the group will be closely monitoring to ensure voter suppression and intimidation at the ballot box does not occur.
"There is much at stake for Latinos in this election and much at stake for candidates as well," adds Janet Murguía, president and CEO of NCLR. "We want to grow the voices that stand up for the community and reject fear mongering. We will be watching and participating."
"Our voice is going to reach a new height," predicts Cristóbal Alex of the Latino Victory Foundation. "When we stand together we are much, much stronger."