The meeting was presented by Lorna McLain, a volunteer at the SLAB, who began with some disappointing numbers.
Only 47 percent of registered Latinos voted in Cuyahoga County in 2012, according to data provided by the Northeast Ohio Voter Advocates (NOVA), a non-partisan organization dedicated to expanding voter registration in underrepresented areas. Cuyahoga County is 5.1 percent Hispanic, according to the 2012 U.S. census.
Nationally in 2012, Latino voters did better, comprising 10 percent of the electorate, according to the Pew Research Center, which reported off of national exit polls.
To combat these numbers, “Es Nuestro Turno” goes deeper than just setting up information booths at fairs, said McLain.
“That mentality [of setting up information booths] does not work,” Ms. McLain said. “That mentality has to leave the room, and if you walked in here with that mentality, just turn around and come back in because it has to leave.”
Instead, those involved with “Es Nuestro Turno” will be committed to an engaged and detailed process reaching out to ones community. Ms. McLain called the process an “engagement timeline,” and it sets attainable goals in the months before Election Day such as hosting voter education events at a nonprofit, anecdotal engagement and a process to follow-up with clients before November.
The concept of the engagement timeline came about when Ivelisse Roig, bilingual election program coordinator with the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, was contacted by NOVA to try out a project that was previously done by Nonprofit Vote in 2012, which increased the Latino turnout.
Norman Robbins of NOVA said the methods used by Nonprofit Vote had great success, increasing the Latino vote by as much as 20 percent.
“Political parties consider themselves very lucky if they can get a five percent increase in turnout by sending hundreds of people knocking on doors,” Robbins said. “[A] 20 percent turnout without that is because of organizations like yours, because you not only register people but you see them afterwards [to follow up with actually voting].”
“Non-profits and community organizations are crucial to the movement,” said Ms. McLain, because ‘their clients know the organizations can deliver services they need and they trust them. The relationship is mutual, since voting is beneficial to the clients. Furthermore, nonprofits have greater access to elected leaders as well as their constituents.’
“What we’re looking for, you’re serving already,” Ms. McLain said. “We’re looking for your clients that walk in every single day. This is what was missing in what we were trying to do [in previous years].”
The nonprofits must be committed and detailed in their approach, Ms. Roig emphasized. In addition to the timeline there must be a detailed approach to work with the clients. Ms. Roig suggested even simply having the receptionist ask people if they’re registered and alerting them about registration deadlines and voting deadlines.
“We want people to understand that we need your support. How many [voter] registration cards are brought back [from the Puerto Rican festival]? 15, for a two or three day event?” Ms. Roig said. “That’s not effective, and we need something more effective, we need engagement and we need everyone to become part of this project.”
Lack of follow-up of people who were registered to vote also contributed to lower voter turnout.
“In the past, we have registered a lot of people, but we still have a low number of turnout, people who actually vote,” said Omar Medina, pastor and president of La Fraternidad de Pastores Hispanos Unidos. “So the good thing about this program that I love, that makes a difference, is that they have actually found unique and interesting ways to engage the people, and to present the importance of voting in a way they can relate.”
For instance, Medina said if a community wants a problem taken care of in their venue, they need to understand that county leadership and politicians will listen to those who voted.
If a nonprofit can help their clients understand the real-life importance of voting, voter turnout should increase, said Ingrid Angel, director of El Barrio.
“I think we have to make this real and person-to-people,” Ms. Angel said. “When individuals understand what they’re voting for, it gives them a reason to go to the polls.”
Keeping a database of who was registered and who actually voted is also important, said Mr. Robbins, who offered to keep records if the group so desired.
The SLAB assists the Board of Elections of Cuyahoga County to ensure that ballots and voting information packets are printed in both English and Spanish. This has been the law since 2010, when the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections entered into a federal agreement. Although federal oversight expired March 2014, the bilingual practices were continued.
Ms. McLain said if they get the full support of at least four to five Latino groups for this push, they should be on a good track. Ms. Roig said 4 groups that were in attendance had signed on.
One of those groups was Pastor Medina’s Fraternidad de Pastores Hispanos Unidos. He praised the efforts of those involved with “Es Neustro Turno.”
“We always say to let our voices be heard,” Pastor Medina said. “But when it comes to making changes, our voices are not only what we say but our voices are actually boiled down to numbers –statistics – numbers of voters. That’s what’s going to make the politicians and leaders of the community do what we need done.”