Vice President Kamala Harris will deliver opening remarks at a Latino conference on Wednesday afternoon urging Congress to act on voting rights bills, after Florida and Texas passed restrictive voting laws that Democrats say will suppress voter turnout.
“They saw how many people voted by mail in 2020 — and they are working to cut back drop boxes. They saw how many people voted early in 2020 — and they are working to cut back early voting," Harris said in recorded remarks that were released in advance. "They saw how many people voted in person in 2020 — and they are working to cut back polling locations."
Harris will address participants virtually at the Voto Latino Power Summit, organized by Voto Latino, a progressive national group that helps young Latinos register to vote and increase voter turnout. They completed over 617,000 voter registrations before 2020, a year when Latinos registered and voted in record numbers.
Over 16.4 million Latinos voted in 2020, according to a City University of New York study. The number of Hispanic registered voters rose by 22.6 percent from 2016 to 2020, and the Latino vote grew by 29.8 percent in that time.
Young Latinos, in particular, were pivotal to the 2020 election turnout. For the first time, over half of all eligible Latinos voted in 2020 and the highest turnout rate was among young people, according to Voto Latino. Around 34 percent were new voters.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, signed a sweeping election bill in September after battling with Democrats over months. At one point Democrats even fled the state in an attempt to block the legislation. In May, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, also a Republican, signed voting legislation that restricts voting by mail and at drop boxes.
Last month, a group of eight Senate Democrats introduced new voting rights legislation dubbed the Freedom to Vote Act. It focuses on expanding voter access, boosting election integrity and encouraging civil participation. Some of the provisions include making Election Day a public holiday and requiring same-day registration at all polling locations by 2024.
House Democrats have passed two other voting bills, the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The bills were passed along party lines in the House, but did not advance in the Senate.
“We need your help to get these bills passed — and in the meantime, we need you to keep doing what you do so well. Keep registering every voter everywhere. In our democracy, there is nothing more sacred, more fundamental, than our vote,” Harris said.
The U.S. Hispanic population reached a record 60.6 million in 2019, and in 2020, Latinos became the second-largest voting group in the U.S., after non-Latino white voters.
Voto Latino CEO and co-founder Maria Teresa Kumar said “efforts to diminish” Latino participation and “disregard their votes are targeted and unjust." She commended the Biden administration's push to "protect fundamental voting rights of the Latinx community" and stressed that Latinos make up more than half of the total U.S. population growth in the last decade.
Voto Latino’s 13th annual Power Summit includes fireside chats with government and elected officials. Among them are voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams and activist Dolores Huerta.
“As the great Willie Velasquez often said, ‘Your vote is your voice,’” said Harris, speaking about the Latino civil rights pioneer and the founder of the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project, which has registered millions of Hispanic voters since it was founded in 1974.
“The people of our nation must be able to decide the fate of our nation, to determine our future," Harris said. "And therein lies the power of your vote, the power of your voice. And that is why we must fight together to make sure that all voters are heard.”