Fight back with votes? Group spotlights El Paso massacre to urge young Latinos to register

“We’re not powerless or helpless. We have the power. The power of our vote," a speaker in the ad says.

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By Suzanne Gamboa

The massacre at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in August is featured in an ad campaign urging young Latinos to register to vote for the 2020 elections.

The group behind the campaign says its research has shown that the attack, which left 22 people dead after a gunman told authorities he wanted to target "Mexicans," is a somber but forceful catalyst for getting Latinos to see the power available to them at the ballot box.

Latinos who were not registered to vote showed greater interest in getting registered after watching ads that include a clip of video from the attack, according to the findings of Poder Latinx, a civil and social justice organization that is coordinating the ad campaign, which launched on Tuesday.

The campaign, dubbed Poder 2020, targets Latinos ages 18-35 who are not registered to vote. The ads will run digitally in specific states to start.

Next year, Latinos will be the largest nonwhite racial group of eligible voters. But some 15 million to 18 million Latinos from across the country and of all ages are not registered to vote.

“We have seen the Latino community increasing and we have seen Latino community participation at the ballot box, but it is still not enough,” said Ben Monterroso, a senior adviser to Poder Latinx. Other groups participating include America's Voice, Latino Decisions, the League of United Latin American Citizens and Phone2Action.

Monterroso said about 6 million Latinos voted in 2016, while about 12 million did two years later.

In testing the ads, 25 percent of English and Spanish speakers in a control group who did not see the ads said it was extremely important to be registered, said Matt Barretto, cofounder of Latino Decisions, a Democratic polling firm that did the testing.

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But that number rose to 53 percent of English speakers after they saw the ad. In the Spanish speaking group who saw the ad, 33 percent said it is extremely important to register, and another 47 percent said it was very important.

“When exposed to the ad, people were responding and saying, ‘Yes, it is very important to be registered to vote,’” Barreto said.

In the Latino Decisions testing, majorities said they would share the ads with friends on social media, with a stronger likelihood among English speakers. Baretto said the ads' themes had resonated across Latino subgroups — Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans and others.

The feeling of being under attack is something everyone can relate to, he said.

The ad was done in English and Spanish by MAS Consulting. The ad in English opens with a young Latino saying: “Until now, I didn’t bother to register to vote. I was just a bystander listening, looking at all the hate speech,” while black and white clips of anti-immigrant protests and the chant “build that wall” play behind him.

It includes President Donald Trump at a rally where Trump describes immigration to the country as "an invasion" and asks, "But how do you stop these people?" A caption on the screen says "Shoot Them!" which is what reporters at the rally said they heard an audience member say. Trump and some attendees at the rally laughed off the comment.

Shortly after, the ad shows phone videos of the gunman firing inside the El Paso Walmart on Aug. 3. Twenty-two people died as a result of the shooting and another 26 were injured.

“We’re not powerless or helpless. We have the power. The power of our vote. We still have 15 to 18 million Latinos who are not registered to vote. ¿Que esperas? (What are you waiting for?)” the speakers say.

Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, said the campaign's message "gets it right."

"The El Paso massacre is really a turning point in how Latinos are viewed in this country and if Latinos stand up ... it will be the last time any political force decides to put a target on their back," Sharry said.

Monterroso said the group has $15,000 to start posting the first month's ads on social media; the group hopes to raise more money for the campaign.

Monterroso said the initial ads would be reaching half a million Latinos not registered to vote, but eligible to register in seven states: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas. Different versions of ads will be rolled out, including one specific to Texas.

The group also created an option for Latinos to get information on voter registration by texting to a number. The Poder 2020 campaign will then send them information on whether they are registered and where to vote and notifications reminding them of important dates in the 2020 election.

Members of the group acknowledged the difficulty they face trying to register the millions of Latinos who are not registered, but Baretto said there is already work underway with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to register Latinos in Texas.

"That's the first time you've seen that happen that early," he said. "And it is not only going to happen in Texas. You are starting to see that investment. We need a lot more."

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