Congreso hosts voter registration drive in last stretch before voter rolls close
Eligible Pennsylvania voters have until Monday, Oct. 24 to add their names to the voter rolls.
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Since settling in Philadelphia four years ago due to a personal family matter, Amarilis never cast her ballot or registered to vote because she was never too sure of the process, and found the entire scheme too intimidating.
“I didn’t feel secure, and I didn’t have a lot of information,” said Amarilis, whose first and most frequently used language is Spanish. “I didn’t know where to register, a lot of the information was in English, but now I found [Congreso] where I have an opportunity to do it in Spanish.”
She’s a Puerto Rican resident currently residing in Kensington, where she rents a public housing unit. On Monday, Oct. 24, she happened to be at Congreso to run errands and was drawn to a lively atmosphere.
The overcast weather didn’t deter Congreso, a nonprofit organization servicing a primarily Hispanic population, from hosting a lively voter registration drive with Spanish-language assistance for residents.
A live DJ, food, and decorations were the nonprofit’s strategy.
“We are making noise about the fact that it’s the last day to register to vote in Pennsylvania,” said Julia Rivera, Congreso’s Chief External Affairs Officer and one of the event’s organizers.
“Whether it’s updating your address, or just checking your status, we are here to provide all that information. If someone’s not registered, we have forms here that we’ll run to the elections office by 4 p.m.”
Amarilis told AL DIA that although she prefers to stay out of politics, she felt empowered by engaging in her native language.
“Part of the conversation is letting them know how big of a role we have,” noted Andrew Moran, who works in Congreso’s External Affairs operation. “Maybe they’re not aware of that, so we highlight that.”
Congreso’s mobilization efforts took place next to their headquarters in West Kensington, where a large Hispanic Philadelphian population resides.
Maribel and Miguel are Kensington residents of over 13 years from Puerto Rico, but because of an address issue, they were unable to register in the past.
“We had an appointment [at Congreso] but saw what was happening out here. We haven’t been able to bite because we weren’t on the list,” said Maribel, who worked with Congreso staffers to fix the address issue, and transport the updated information to the elections office.
As they prepared to leave, according to the Puerto Rican couple, they felt confident to head to the polls and cast their vote.
“The service was great, and I’m glad to have found it in Spanish,” Maribel said.
Admittedly, they haven’t been swayed by any candidate yet and aren’t yet sure who they’ll vote for.
“Everybody has a voice,” said CJ Torres, a UnidosUs Action Fund canvassing staff member who’d been helping Congreso with fieldwork. “I’m here to help my community,” he added.
Torres is Philadelphia-based and has focused the last few years on community advocacy and mobilizing to get them to the polls.
“[There are] different types of responses,” he noted of his political advocacy work. “We let people know they’re here, no matter what type of voice they’re giving us, we’re still receiving it.”
Philadelphia boasts a significant Hispanic presence, which comprises roughly 15% of the city’s population, according to Census data. But advocacy groups grapple with involving the city’s Latinos in the political conversation.
Rafael Collazo, executive director of UnidosUS action fund, says political candidates have a long road ahead to galvanize unregistered Hispanics.
“Latinos who are registered to vote, particularly in presidential elections, turn out in strong numbers. The largest gap we have is actually eligible unregistered population,” Collazo underlined.
UnidosUS Action Fund hunkered down in Philadelphia to address that gap.
And much like Amarilis, Maribel and Miguel, Collazo reaffirmed that voters are often abandoned in the political outreach cycle.
“Many of the Latinos that are not telling us that they’re likely voting this cycle are also telling us that there’s been no candidate, there’s been no party, there’s been no information telling them about their candidacy,” Collazo underlined.
Campaigns that have embarked on concerted efforts to activate the Latino vote are few and far between. In Pennsylvania, the Latino message has been spearheaded by the Fetterman camp in deploying a multi-pronged strategy that included Spanish-language commercials throughout the year in counties with the largest Latino populations, in addition to a Latinos for Fetterman tour.
Next on the candidate roster is PA Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro, who also released a series of Spanish-language ads, as well as walking tours through Hispanic business corridors.
Shapiro, a Democrat, walked with Philadelphia’s Latino political leaders, including mayoral candidate Maria Quiñones-Sánchez and Democrat-endorsed Quetcy Lozada, who is vying for a city council seat.
And while Republicans have increased ad spending at a national level, much is to be desired from Pennsylvania GOP hopefuls. Sen. Doug Mastriano, Shapiro's opponent, hosted one Hispanic business rally in Philadelphia.
There are no recorded events for GOP Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz, Fetterman’s opponent for the U.S. Senate.
Collazo hopes that beyond the election scheme, counties will begin targeted efforts to support emerging Latino communities and provide support with Spanish-language access.
Responding to voting rights-related lawsuits weighing the nation, Collazo says it will have a positive effect.
“I think it will ultimately have the reverse effect (...) and will turn out in historic numbers,” he said.