Samuel Vilchez is the sort of person you’ll find behind the eye-popping statistic that nearly half of Latinos eligible to vote in the U.S. are millennials.
Vilchez, an 18-year-old freshman at Princeton University, is one of 3.2 million Latino millennials that Pew Research Center reported will make their first trip to the election polls this year. His family came to the U.S. as refugees about five years ago from Venezuela.
But beyond making sure he could vote this year, Vilchez has also made it possible for hundreds more Latino millennials to make the trip. Last year, he partnered with Mi Familia Vota and organized a weeklong voter drive at his high school that registered and pre-registered some 432 millennials to vote.
“My senior (high school) year, as I was the president of the Hispanic Honor Society, one of our main goals was to activate our school, especially the Hispanic student body, around the possibility of political advocacy,” said Vilchez, who was his class valedictorian.
For Latino millennials, the median age is 19.
Like all other younger voters, they aren’t the most reliable voters. Since they are such a large part of the electorate the outreach task is tougher. Political parties and leaders have to work harder to mobilize a large group of voters whose youngest are half the age of the youngest presidential candidate, 44-year-old Marco Rubio.
Latino groups, long aware of the hundreds of thousands of young Latinos reaching adulthood each year, have been working on trying to reach them.
“The Latino community is a young community, so young people are an an even greater element of its electoral growth compared with other groups," said Clarissa Martínez-De-Castro, a vice president for the National Council of La Raza. "Since across all groups, young people tend have lower electoral participation, our charge to turn that around is even more acute."
In 2012, when President Barack Obama was up for re-election, 37.8 percent of Latino millennials showed up to vote. For black millenials, the turnout was 55 percent. It was 47.5 for white millennials and 37.3 percent for Asian millennials, according to Pew.
Ben Monterroso, Mi Familia Vota executive director, said his group became more intentional last year in targeting Latino millennials.
The group has been asking cities to pass resolutions supporting efforts to improve young people’s civic participation. It also has been making presentations in high schools with high Latino student populations in Colorado, Nevada and Florida.
Vilchez organized the voter drive after hearing one of Mi Familia Vota’s presentations at his school. He also addressed the issue as part of his valedictory speech at graduation.
“That’s what we need to be doing, to make sure the youth speak from their hearts to the rest of the youth. That’s what we hope to do this year at as many high schools where they allow us to promote civic engagement,” Monterroso said.
Daniel Garza, executive director at the conservative LIBRE Initiative, said hiring a lot of millennials and vigorous digital outreach are key components of his group’s strategies. Also, millennial team members have been hosting Café con LIBRE get togethers at dorms. A LIBRE member on the campus hosts them with coffee and doughnuts to engage college students.
Voto Latino formed in 2004 to target Latino millennial voters and has employed many strategies including enlisting stars such as Wilmer Valderrama, America Ferrera and Gina Rodriguez. Jessica Reeves, chief operating officer, said Voto Latino also has used a network of sororities and fraternities on college campuses. It is now extending to community colleges.
The group began using social media early on, going to MySpace to find its audience. But now social media is more robust and working with companies who can do better targeting, Reeves said.
Next month, NCLR is launching a voter registration mobile phone app with mitú, which Martínez-De-Castro said is how NCLR is “turbocharging” its Latino outreach.
"Our efforts, and those of sister organizations, have always included outreach to our young potential voters, and we are redoubling that approach," she said.
But the continual challenge is resources, specifically money.
With about 3 percent of philanthropic giving going to Latino institutions, the money available for voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives doesn’t match the size of the Latino electorate, Reeves said.
Parties and campaigns also spend on voter outreach. Luis Miranda, Democratic Party spokesman, said the party has a data edge over Republicans so it has more information on voters to share with campaigns up and down the ticket.
"When we are doing voter targeting ... we are doing that in a very systematic and detailed way using very sophisticated data modeling because of this national voter file," Miranda said.
Ruth Guerra, a spokeswoman for the Republican Party pointed to the party's Republican Leadership Institute, which trains people to be leaders in their field program and help reach voters. Those trained included at least one Latino who was featured in a party campaign ad.
In addition, Guerra said the party has been recruiting Hispanic staff since 2013 to engage the community around the country.
But ultimately, there may be one best way to make voting attractive to Latino millennials, said Mi Familia Vota's Monterroso:
"We need to make it cool."