With the presidential primary and local elections happening throughout the spring, this group canvassed February and March to register Delaware Latinos to vote.

As the Latino population grows, one group is trying to make sure their voice is heard. 

With the presidential primary and local elections happening throughout the spring, Votamos: We Vote canvassed February and March to register Delaware Latinos to vote. Volunteers are assigned to each county: Sussex, Kent and New Castle.

Middletown resident Emy Diaz-Rivera, volunteer who covers New Castle County, said the nonpartisan campaign had a small group of volunteers knocked on doors and tabled to reach out to a population they feel has been underrepresented in the democratic process.

“We need to have more Latinos come out and vote, not only for their own benefit, but to make sure they are participating and understanding their own role in democracy,” she said. “We haven’t seen as many initiatives encouraging this demographic to come out and vote.”

Other groups

Laneyscha Echevarria Mendez, Sussex County field organizer, said the campaign is primarily meant to register Latino voters. They also make sure they turn out to vote. 

“We encourage them to reach out to their friends to get them to register,” she said. “We are trying to actually make their votes count.”

Although Latinos have been the primary focus, they have been reaching to all demographics they consider underrepresented, such as African Americans and ex-convicts.

“We try to educate people on who can and can’t vote,” Mendez said.

The Sussex organizer said they try to combat myths around who can and can’t vote, such as ex-convicts who think they can’t because of their conviction.

One group of focus is young voters. She said many think because they aren’t 18 years old, they can’t register. They can register if they will be 18 by the date of the election.

Barriers

Diaz-Rivera said there are many eligible-voter Latinos that don’t understand how the political process helps them.

“There is nothing we can do about [undocumented Latinos], but it is important for those who are documented to understand what their voice and part is in the process,” she said. “Some of them don’t understand how their voice affects the process and how it matters.”

She said residents who don’t speak English struggle to know how to vote.

“Language is absolutely a barrier,” Diaz-Rivera said. “Let’s say if they step into a library, there is not a single person who can explain to them, ‘Hey, this is where you can vote and this is how you can vote. Just because you don’t speak the native language here, it doesn’t mean you can’t vote.”

According to the Pew Research Center about 74.5% of Delaware’s population is considered to be an eligible voter — any U.S. citizen 18 years or older. Of the 721,000 eligible, about 5.4% are Latino.

The Latino population has grown by about 10.8% since 2016, increasing from 83,000 to 92,000.

Despite the growth, Diaz-Rivera — who is Puerto Rican — said she feels underrepresented in her community.

“No one on [Middletown] town council, none of them speak Spanish,” she said.

National trends

Although the coalition’s focus is not any specific election, the timing falls weeks prior to the Delaware voter registration deadline for the April 28 presidential primary. Eligible voters must register by Saturday, April 4.

Many Latino registered voters want the government to be more involved in solving the nation’s problems, including minimum wage, stricter gun laws and expansion of government health care, according to a Pew Research Center survey from December 2019. About 87% of Democratic Latino voters think it really matters who wins the White House in 2020.

The center reported Latino voter turnout reached 11.7 million in 2018, up from 6.8 million in 2014, which is the single largest increase on record from one midterm election to another for Latinos. 

Absentee ballots, voting

April 24 is the last day the Department of Elections can mail absentee ballots for the presidential primary. Because offices are closed until further notice, ballots can be mailed to the voter’s county Department of Elections. Ballots must arrive by April 28 to count.

Absentee ballot restrictions have not been lifted as of March 19. Absentee requests can be found at elections.delaware.gov/voter.

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, some states have moved their presidential primary dates. As of March 19, Delaware’s has not. Polls are scheduled to be open Tuesday, April 28 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.