Online Registration Could Bring More Latinos to the Voting Booth

As Latino citizens of the United States, there is no civic action we can take that is more powerful than fully exercising our right to vote.

With next year's presidential campaign underway, we must keep in mind that the person elected as our national leader will have an important role in matters of immigration, health, education, jobs and other issues vital to Latinos.

That is one of many reasons why Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and I made it an immediate priority to implement online voter registration (OVR) in the Commonwealth. In August, we became the 23rd state to offer the online option which makes registration more convenient, accessible and efficient than ever before.

OVR is particularly valuable for our Latino citizens because we are among the most digitally "connected" groups of eligible voters.

A May 2013 study by the Pew Hispanic Center reported that the number of Latinos using social network sites continues to grow -- 72 percent compared to 67 percent the year before.

Pennsylvania's OVR site is fully mobile adaptive, a feature that is expected to appeal to Latino users. According to a 2013 report from the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Latinos are more likely than the general population to own mobile devices including iPhones, Androids and iPad tablets.

Similarly Nielsen Media Research reported in 2014 that Latinos use smartphones at a higher rate than any other demographic group.

The above trends suggest that the Latino community will embrace OVR as its preferred registration option.

From the time the Department of State began planning the implementation of OVR, we knew that bilingual access had to be part of the basic blueprint. That is why the OVR site, register.votesPA.com, is fully functional in English and Spanish.

Building a Spanish-language OVR site simply made sense, especially in light of the fact that Latinos are the fastest-growing segment of the population.

Unfortunately, too many eligible Latinos are passing up the opportunity to vote. In Pennsylvania, there are approximately 540,000 Latino citizens over 18. However, only 37.7 percent of them were registered to vote as of 2014. That means nearly two-thirds of Pennsylvania's eligible Latinos were not exercising their right to elect the officials that represent their government.

Nationally, the Pew Research Center reported in 2014 that voter turnout among Latinos continues to be lower than that of other ethnic groups. With Latinos accounting for 11.3% of eligible voters in the U.S., the potential for political influence is considerable. However, in the 2010 midterm election, only 31.2% of the nation's 21.3 million eligible Latinos voted. In that same election, the turnout rate for whites was 48.6%, and for African Americans it was 44%.

Just as the Pennsylvania Department of State hopes online voter registration will lead to greater civic participation by all, we also hope making election materials available in Spanish will result in better informed Latino citizens.

The Department's comprehensive voter education website is available in Spanish, at es.votesPA.com. In addition to the new registration application, the website offers other valuable tools such as a polling place locator and videos on how to use the voting machines in each county.

If all eligible Latinos were to vote in every election, we would capitalize on the political strength of our numbers in the United States. When Latinos make their voices heard at the polling place, the decision-makers pay increased attention to the dreams and aspirations of our community.