President Barack Obama will not only try to repair the strain in his relationship with the Latino community Thursday night, but his speech to a Hispanic crowd could serve to help those working to rally Latino voters for the Nov. 4 elections.
Before the president postponed executive action on immigration, there were hopes his promised end-of-the-summer pledge to make immigration fixes might help with Latino turnout.
With the delay, voting groups that are non-partisan are left to rely on the message they've relied on for many elections, reminding Latinos that political influence comes with greater civic participation.
"Every time we have political officials addressing the community, like President Obama, it serves to show how important it is we elect people who talk to us and not talk at us" and helps people understand the importance of civic participation, said Ben Monterroso, executive director of Mi Familia Vota.
Obama is the keynote speaker at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute's annual gala, which comes in the middle of Hispanic Heritage Month.
There are 4.4 million more Latinos eligible to vote than in 2010. Even with a larger pool, predictions are that the turnout rate won’t improve. Just one-third of Latinos eligible to vote turned out in 2010.
Latinos may be disappointed about the executive action delay, but they also know that anything Obama does do after the elections is going to be temporary and is not going to take care of all 11 million here illegally, he said.
They also know that 2016 is around the corner “and our community is looking to make a difference,” Monterroso said. “Those who are ignoring us, who hope we don’t participate, when they come and beg for our support, we don’t know how they are going to be able to do it.”
So he and fellow Latino voter advocate Maria Teresa Kumar, founding president and CEO of Voto Latino, have ramped up turnout efforts.
“I got off the phone with the Obama administration when they talked about him not taking executive action and I was frustrated,” Kumar said. Then she turned her thoughts to “what can we do," she said.
What she and Monterroso did was reach out to Latino voting groups and groups that don’t usually work on voter registration and are leveraging their networks and media lists too.
“It’s our responsibility to rise above politics and unify as a voice,” said Kumar, whose group focuses on turning out young Latinos.
Eighty-five groups have jumped on and 300 people a day are being registered, she said. Some of the collaborators that don't usually do voter registration are the online magazine Being Latino, Cosmo Latina, the Latino Coalition business group and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Kumar said.
The groups picked four days, Sept. 15 (the start of Hispanic Heritage Month), Sept. 23, Oct. 6 and Oct. 15 to collectively focus solely on voter registration, having learned from experience that they get better response that way.
Kumar is using social media and other online tools to draw some of the 800,0000 Latinos a year who are citizens and turn 18. “None of the organizations are meeting that” onslaught of new potential voters, she said.
Meanwhile, Mi Familia Vota is using traditional methods of door-to-door registrations, partnering with Spanish language media and running phone banks during live broadcasts of debates.
“Unfortunately for our community, this is not the first time our hearts have been broken, our hopes challenged. But we’ve never stopped. Every time we have come back with a stronger attitude, said Monterroso.
Monterroso said the group has 450 volunteers in six states knocking on doors to get people registered and soon will be focused on getting people out for early voting.
On Thursday, the group announced it will be going to dining rooms of nine Ceasar’s Entertainment properties in Las Vegas to sign up new voters. Nevada’s voter registration deadline is Saturday.
For the first time in midterms, debates for state and local offices are running at prime time on Spanish language stations, he said. During that time, Mi Familia Vota and others operate phone banks to answer potential voters’ questions from when is Election Day to where to go vote.
The national media has counted out the Latino vote every year since 2000, and it has continually surprised the naysayers, he said.
“I believe the Latino community is more tuned in than people want to give us credit for,” Monterroso said. “We’re realizing our participation at the ballot box has consequences for our community.”