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In Georgia, Latinos shatter runoff turnout record as groups make last push for voters

Sixty-five percent of Georgia Latinos who voted early in November voted early in Tuesday's runoffs — compared to 10 percent who voted in a 2018 runoff, said a political scientist.
Image: Georgia Senate Candidate Jon Ossoff Holds Latino Meet And Greet Campaign Event
Supporters of Democratic Senate candidate Jon Ossoff hold up signs during a Latino meet and greet and literature distribution rally in Marietta, Ga., on Wednesday.Brandon Bell / Getty Images

Even before polls opened Tuesday for the Senate runoffs in Georgia, Latinos had shattered their best turnout numbers for previous runoff elections.

But with control of the Senate at stake in the tight races, groups focused on Hispanic voters worked at full speed to get more people to the polls on Tuesday.

"We have 38 billboards from Middle Georgia to South Georgia in Spanish — reminding people to vote," said Gigi Pedraza, executive director of the Latino Community Fund, a nonprofit group. The group has been emphasizing a message that is central to much of its work — "that we belong in Georgia," Pedraza said.

"This is our home, and it's our right to participate and to define our future," she said.

As of Monday, 79,782 Latinos had voted early in the runoffs, compared to 124,662 on the Monday before the presidential election Nov. 3, said Bernard Fraga, an associate professor of politics at Emory University.

A total of 174,508 Latinos in the state voted in the general election, which would mean about 50,000 voters went to the polls on Election Day in November, he said.

Compared to the last runoff, in the race for secretary of state in 2018, Latinos have surpassed their turnout many times over. In that race, about 10 percent of Latinos who turned out in the general election showed up again in the runoff. As of Monday, about 65 percent of Latinos who had voted early in the general election had voted early in the runoff.

"This is the highest turnout there will ever be for Latinos in a runoff," Fraga said.

Democratic Senate candidate Jon Ossoff greets a woman at a Latino meet and greet and literature distribution rally in Marietta, Ga., on Wednesday.Brandon Bell / Getty Images

But it's not as high as the turnout for the runoffs in the African American, white and Asian communities. African Americans have done the best, with just about a 15 percent drop in turnout in early votes in the runoff compared to early voting in the general election. In comparison, the drop-off for Latinos was about 35 percent as of Monday, Fraga said.

"We have to ask the question how big would the drop-off be if there weren't these tremendous efforts to mobilize Latino voters," he said.

Numerous groups, celebrities and political activists focused on Latino voters have converged on Georgia after it became clear that the runoffs will determine which party controls the Senate. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, both Republicans, failed to win majorities in the general election, forcing the runoffs with Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, respectively.

They partnered with Georgia nonprofit Latino groups in various counties for phone banking and canvassing. The comic book character La Borinqueña helped explain why Latinos were being asked to go to the polls again so soon after the presidential election, while the nationally syndicated political cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz urged turnout with the use of "luchadores," or Mexican wrestlers.

Pedraza's group is part of a coalition of six Georgia-based non-profits that concentrated on registering and turning out Latinos. The others in the coalition are Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, Georgia Familia Unidas, Coalition of Latino Leaders, Dignidad Imigrante and Los Vecinos de Buford Highway.

The national groups Mi Familia Vota, Mijente, Hispanic Federation, Poder Latinx, Voto Latino, Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, LIBRE Action added resources, manpower to turn out Latinos. Fair Fight, the group started by voting rights activist and political leader Stacey Abrams also focused some of its election work on Latino voters. Mijente, which has worked several years in Georgia, also worked with Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights.

Former presidential candidate Julián Castro joined Warnock and Ossoff on the campaign trail, while celebrities like America Ferrera and Eva Longoria also made treks to the state. Hispanic pastors and evangelical leaders were harnessed to help turn out voters for the incumbents.

The East Los Angeles band Las Cafeteras gave the classic tune "Georgia on My Mind" a remake to create an anthem for Democratic-backing voters, and the state Democratic Party ran Spanish-language radio and television ads featuring Los Tigres del Norte, the Grammy-winning norteño band.

The election has come with many challenges. It's happening during a pandemic, and outgoing President Donald Trump has asserted falsely that the election in Georgia, which he lost, is invalid and illegal, throwing confusion on the Senate races.

Two days before the Senate runoffs, Trump tried to persuade Georgia's secretary of state to overturn the results in an hourlong phone call that has led to calls from Democratic lawmakers for an investigation.

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All of that comes on top of two runoffs, the type of election that traditionally draws small numbers of voters, generally far fewer than in the general elections that precede them.

The last weeks have seen a push by Democrats and Republicans to target Latino voters, including Spanish-language TV and radio ads.

"What it speaks to is the reflection of how much both sides now recognize the importance of our constituencies," said Daniel Garza, president of the conservative Libre Initiative and Libre Action, its political arm. "None of the constituencies can be taken for granted, and that includes the Latino vote."

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