Non-partisan Yakima groups focus on voter education and outreach to Latino community | Local

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In the 2022 primary elections in Washington in August, 12% of registered voters with Spanish surnames voted in Yakima County. In the 2021 general election, that number was just 13%.

These turnouts have motivated local organizations to increase awareness and education in the Latin American community. Workers and volunteers at groups like Poder Latinx, OneAmerica, La Casa Hogar and the Latino Community Fund spent the fall knocking on doors, managing phone banks and answering questions about how to vote.

“The election work that we did started the day after last year’s election,” said Audel Ramirez, a community organizer for OneAmerica. “Many organizations encouraged Latinos to vote.”

After the 2021 election, Ramirez spent time knocking on doors and surveying community members to understand why voter turnout was low.

Voter eligibility

One obstacle Ramirez faced was that many Latinos in Yakima County were ineligible to vote. Community members may not be citizens or may not be registered.

According to recent US Census data, Latinos make up more than 50% of the county’s population. In Yakima County, voters with Spanish surnames — a population that can be used to track voting in the Latino community — accounted for just 26% of total ballots cast.

The organizers of La Casa Hogar have been working for years on each step of this process. The nonprofit organizes citizenship classes, where teachers stress the importance of voting throughout the year.

“As part of our citizenship program, we offer a lot of information and education about the electoral system in this state,” said Magaly Solis, executive director of La Casa Hogar. “We ensure that students are informed of the power their vote has and the impact it creates.”

Organizers at La Casa Hogar helped new voters register until online and mail registration closed on October 31. Staff call community members, ask if they are registered to vote or have voted, and offer virtual or in-person, non-partisan assistance.

Interested community members can still register to vote in this election, but must do so by Tuesday at 8 p.m. in person at 128 N. Second St., Room 17, Yakima Town Center Courthouse . On Election Day, the Yakima County Auditor’s Office will also have a polling center at the Sunnyside Neighborhood Health Clinic to provide assistance.

Other community organizations have pursued similar efforts; Poder Latinx organized an information event on October 28th. Organizers emphasize that these events and their efforts are not in the name of any political party, ideology or candidate.

“Our work is non-partisan. We don’t tell them who to vote for, just to go out and vote,” said Mark Figueroa, a Tri-Cities-based Poder Latinx organizer.

“We help people with the mechanics of voting, not telling them what to write,” said OneAmerica’s Ramirez.

Education

Ramirez added that education has been a top concern for those registered to vote. Advocates in the Yakima area said some people were surprised to hear that an election was taking place this year. It can be difficult for community members to access information about candidates or policies, especially if they need it in Spanish.

“There’s no local place people go to for information,” Ramirez said.

Local organizations are trying to fill this gap. Ramirez said he spends a lot of time talking to people through the voter guide.

Consuelo Rodríguez, who led La Casa Hogar’s voting outreach efforts, said the organization has also worked with Radio KDNA in Granger to educate residents and let them know where they can seek help.

One of the most important steps in the mail-in ballot process is ensuring that the ballots are properly filled out. Rodríguez said voters can struggle with the vocabulary used in ballots, even if it’s in their native language. She added that some don’t know what to do when there is an unopposed candidate or think they have to fill out the whole ballot or only want to fill out part of it.

“There are people who can’t read, or it takes them longer to read it,” Rodríguez said in Spanish. “We also try to make them understand that the ballot is large and that there are important local elections.”

Casa Hogar is open at 106 S. Sixth St. in Yakima and offers free assistance to voters.

The Latino Community Fund, Poder Latinx, OneAmerica and other groups are holding a ballot from 4-6 p.m. Saturday at the Henry Beauchamp Center, 1211 S. Seventh St., in Yakima with food, music and voting information .

Renato Mendoza, Washington State director of Poder Latinx, has been canvassing daily with a group of volunteers since September. He goes door to door with a stack of voter guides, confronting misunderstandings. Mendoza said people want to be informed, to vote and to be part of the system.

OneAmerica’s Ramirez agreed.

“People who have this understanding feel more impatient,” Ramirez said. “It has a lot to do with this general understanding of the voting process.”

Sign these bulletins

The last step – the signing of the ballot papers – also deserves attention.

“It’s a very easy step, but a lot of people forget to sign their ballot,” said Giovanni Severino, a youth campaign organizer with the Latino Community Fund.

Severino ensures that signatures are present and match those on voters’ driver’s licenses or other official forms.

Severino added that ballots from members of the Latino community are being rejected at higher rates. A 2021 report from InvestigateWest found that in eight Washington counties, including Yakima, voters with Hispanic-sounding last names were almost four times more likely to have their signature rejected.

Why voting is important

Latin American representation has been the subject of two recent voting rights lawsuits in the Yakima Valley. The city of Yakima and the county have thus modified the voting procedures and the districts.

Voting advocates are still working for greater representation.

“I think it’s important to assert our voice, to have greater representation,” said Rodríguez of La Casa Hogar. “Our community needs services to be able to cast its vote because it faces many challenges.

Mendoza, who grew up in Yakima, said Poder Latinx’s goal was to engage a new Latino electorate and help local leaders represent Yakima residents.

Ramirez has worked on voter turnout year-round for OneAmerica. He does not intend to stop.

“My work for the next election will start on the 9th,” he said. “It’s really going to have to be an eternal problem.”

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