After 2018 voting surge, UnidosUS launches campaign to marshal more Latino voters

UnidosUS President Janet Murguia says the group's goal is to register 120,000 and engage 350,000 Latinos.
Image: Voters wait outside the Gardner Betts Annex to cast ballots in Austin, Texas, on March 6, 2018.
Voters wait outside the Gardner Betts Annex to cast ballots in Austin, Texas, on March 6, 2018.Drew Anthony Smith / Getty Images file

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By Suzanne Gamboa

UnidosUS, the nation’s largest Hispanic advocacy group, announced a campaign Thursday to register 120,000 more voters — twice as many as in the 2018 midterms — as it attempts to marshal the potential power of Latinos at the ballot box when President Donald Trump is up for re-election next November.

“To fight the greatest political challenge in our community’s recent history, today we are launching UnidosUS’ biggest initiative to date, aimed at strengthening the power and influence of the Hispanic community in the 2020 election,” said Janet Murguía, president of UnidosUS.

Murguía said the organization’s goal is also to reach more than 350,000 voters with issue education and get-out-the-vote activities.

The campaign, called ¡Adelante: Moving Us Forward!, will replicate the group’s successful voter registration campaign used in Florida as well as in El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, considered a presidential battleground state in part because of the potential size of the Latino vote.

All of this is happening against a backdrop of another increase in hate crimes against Latinos. A recent FBI report said anti-Latino hate crimes rose nationally more than 21 percent in 2018.

The highest-profile anti-Latino hate crime is the domestic terror attack at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in August, that left 22 dead and 26 injured. Police said the suspect told them his target was Mexicans.

Trump’s favorability ratings are extremely low among Latinos, with a majority saying they've felt less secure since he took office.

“The president frequently refers to Latinos in the most hateful and bigoted ways,” Murguía said. “President Trump should be aware that in the minds of the Latino community, he bears some responsibility for the increase in hate crimes against Latinos."

In 2018, 11.8 million Latinos were registered to vote, but some 29 million were eligible. Next year, the number is expected to be 32 million. About 14 million Latinos are expected to vote in 2020, up from 12.7 million in 2016, the last presidential election year, said Sylvia Manzano, a principal at Latino Decisions polling firm.

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Of Latinos who are registered to vote, about 80 percent to 83 percent do so, said Clarissa Martínez de Castro, UnidosUS' deputy vice president of research, advocacy and legislation.

While registrations and the number of Latinos who vote are increasing, there is a big gap between those who are eligible to register to vote and those who register.

Some of that has to do with youth — Latinos are the youngest voters and all young voters overall have lower turnout rates — but also the failure of parties and campaigns to reach out to Latinos as well as the fact that many Hispanics are concentrated in states that are not considered electoral battlegrounds, Manzano said.

“A key strategy to increase Latino participation is to close that registration gap,” Martínez de Castro said.

She said that of the “obscene amounts” spent in the electoral cycle, an “infinitesimal amount goes to voter registration — we don’t even measure the performance of secretary of states based on how many of the eligible voters in the states are registered to vote."

UnidosUS is also working to help eligible immigrants become citizens.

More voter interest?

There are signs that Latinos are increasingly motivated to vote.

In the 2014 midterm election, only 53 percent of Latinos eligible to vote actually voted. That number rose to 75 percent last year.

If the Latino electorate can be engaged at that level in a midterm contest, Manzano said, "there is every reason to believe that this could happen at a much larger scale in the next presidential election.”

To help register as many Latinos as possible and turn them out to vote, Murguía said the group will ask members of the public to donate $20 to help cover the cost of registering one Latino voter. That initiative is dubbed #20for20.

“We are inviting all Americans to join us in this movement,” Murguía said.

She said UnidosUS has raised $3 million for the campaign and is expecting to raise another $6 million, with a goal of $10 million.

"Adelante is meant to be more than just a voter registration campaign," Murguía said. "Moving us forward ... means deploying the full force of our organization to lift our community up and make our voices heard at the ballot box in the 2020 election."

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