Pilar Marrero, Ethnic Media Services
With just days to go before the possible recall of California's governor, activist campaigns have intensified to mobilize Latino voters, the group that so far has had the least participation in the early recall vote, which ends Sept. 14.
According to the latest report and analysis of returned mail-in ballots by Political Data Inc., 36% of white voters have participated as of September 9, but only 20% of Latinos, 30% of Asians and 28% of African Americans have participated.
Latinos are the largest voting group after whites in California, but only 1 in 6 have returned their ballots.
In the coming days, as more opportunities to vote in person open up and the final day of the election approaches, advocates hope to convince more Latino voters to make their voices heard.
Latinos and new voters were one of the most influential groups in California's transformation into a Democratic state after a series of anti-immigrant initiatives in the 1990s. Many activists consider this recall attempt as troubling for that population as Proposition 187 was in 1994. That proposition, which barred undocumented immigrants from schools and health care and turned officials into virtual immigration agents, was approved by California voters but overwhelmingly rejected by Latinos.
But even though Latinos had a record turnout in last November's presidential election, mobilization groups report that when talking to these voters, they seem very confused about the process and uninformed about the issue.
Several groups associated with Latino activism and voter mobilization used their political arms to campaign against the recall, which they consider disastrous for Latinos.
"We have a field operation in Fresno and Modesto and are making calls throughout California to low-turnout Latino voters," said Eduardo Sainz, national director of field work for Mi Familia Vota, an organization that is using an independent committee to campaign against the recall.
"We know that having a Republican governor would mean dismantling a lot of progressive legislation and policy that has benefited communities of color," she said. Her organization finds that many Latinos are surprised when they are told there is an election.
"Some have said, 'But I just voted,' referring to the last presidential election," Sainz said. "Many haven't heard about it or don't have enough information."
Marilú Guevara, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles, believes many voters - not just Latinos - remain confused about the recall. "We get a lot of phone calls, they received a ballot, but they don't understand the process."
The low number of ballot returns by Latinos is not as unusual as it seems, said Fernando Guerra, executive director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University.
"Latinos decide late," Guerra said during a presentation to Latino leaders this week. "But it's been shown that if you pay attention to these voters, they participate."
Some Latino leaders have said behind the scenes that not enough resources were invested in mobilizing the community, a common problem in most political cycles.
But other issues have plagued this very short campaign, including the fact that Latinos may be consumed by the heavy impact the pandemic has had on their community, the problems of getting their children back to school, worries about the economy, etc. Also, the campaign was quite short.
"Most of the people we talked to didn't know there was a campaign," said Angelica Salas, director of the Chirla Action Fund, which is also working to defeat the recall.
On the last Thursday before the election, Governor Newsom joined an event with the Million Voter Project Action Fund, a group of 7 diverse networks including, among others, Asian Pacific Islanders for Civic Empowerment, California Calls, the California Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), PICO California, and the Orange County Civic Engagement Table.
The group has made 3.5 million phone calls to get out the vote and knocked on 20,000 doors, and its motivation is "to keep California from becoming Texas.