Latino Voters Have the Power

"Who's got the power? We've got the power!"

Over the years, I've taken part in my share of chants before, but never one led by one of my heroes and civil rights icon, Dolores Huerta, in a room packed with canvassers preparing to go door-to-door days before Election Day. But that's exactly where I was this past Thursday as part of a People For the American Way outreach effort to remind Latino voters about the importance of participating in tomorrow's elections. As we chanted together, Huerta's enthusiasm was contagious and the energy in the room was palpable.

There has been a lot of discussion this election cycle about how much influence Latino voters will have on Senate races other than Colorado's, where the importance of our vote is well established. But the closeness of races in states with smaller Latino populations, like Georgia and North Carolina, give Latino voters there a unique opportunity to play a deciding role in who gets elected. In fact, in six key states with critical Senate races, the percent of the electorate made up by eligible Latinos is greater than the margin between the two candidates. These are razor-thin margins, and anyone paying attention to recent elections knows that support from Latino voters can be decisive.

No one knows this to be true more than the organizers and volunteers on the ground working in the Latino community. On the phones and at the doors, our message to voters is clear: if we turn out in large numbers, we get to decide who represents us. As I knocked on doors this week with both long-time community activists and first-time volunteers, we connected voting to the issues that matter to us Latinos the most, like good jobs, quality education, and comprehensive immigration reform. We talked about the lack of Latino elected officials in areas with Latino majorities. We talked about the added responsibility of those who are eligible to vote in representing at the ballot box their friends and family members who can't. We talked about making our voices heard and voting to make change happen for our families.

After listening to what was at stake in this election, almost every person we spoke to promised to vote and to talk to their friends and families about voting on November 4th. Yet, this was the first time most of them were talked to about the election. At PFAW, we've recognized this lack of investment in Latino voter outreach and we've launched a nationwide Spanish-language media campaign to complement the work that is happening on the ground.

From immigration reform to climate change, from education to the minimum wage, there is more "on the ballot" this year than just candidates' names. Yes, importantly, we're voting on who will represent us, but we're also voting on the direction we want to take, as a country, on the most pressing issues of our day.

As Dolores Huerta has reminded us this week, Latino voters have the power to decide elections and shape the direction our country takes -- but only if we use it. If what I've seen on the ground is any indicator, I believe we will.