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Election day in Pennsylvania is Tuesday, November 6.
Election day in Pennsylvania is Tuesday, November 6.

Record number of Latinos register to vote as midterms near

All signs point to higher Latino turnout at the polls in Pennsylvania this November.

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In June, 25 years after moving to Philadelphia from Colombia, María del Pilar Serna became a U.S. citizen. She said she registered to vote immediately afterward.

“I plan to vote in November, because voting is one of the principal rights you get as a citizen,” Serna said.

Serna, a house cleaner, community activist, and mother of two living in Northeast Philadelphia, is not alone. As the country braces for the upcoming midterm elections in November, more Latinos than ever have registered to vote in Pennsylvania, where, Gov. Tom Wolf and Democratic Sen. Bob Casey are waging critical campaigns for reelection.

According to the president of the Pennsylvania Democratic Latino Caucus, David Rodriguez, while official figures won’t be available until the next census, the state’s Latino population has recently surpassed one million. Well over 500,000 Latinos are now registered to vote, said Rodriguez, compared with 440,000 heading into the 2016 presidential elections.

“We’ve been focusing on the midterms a lot. We’re out there right now doing voter registration. We’re not going to stop until the deadline,” Rodriguez told AL DÍA, referring to the Oct. 9 cut-off date to register.

“We have to focus more on the Congress, because I always tell people that if the president changes and we don’t change the Congress, we’re really not getting much accomplished,” he continued. “As Democrats, we need to have the majority in order to make things effective, in order for the needle to start going our way.”

Most Latinos in Pennsylvania will likely vote Democrat; Rodriguez estimated that more than 80 percent will do so. In Philadelphia, nearly eight out of nine Latinos have registered as Democrats, according to Pennsylvania Department of State figures.

Serna said she is a Democrat, and she has noticed more Latinos registering and planning to vote, spurred on by the policies hostile to Latino communities and immigrants being enacted by the Trump administration.

“The majority [of Latinos] are Democrats. The few that were Republicans have had a bad experience with the fiasco of the Trump government, so they are going to vote Democrat too,” she predicted.

Rodriguez, meanwhile, attributed the spike in registration to aggressive grassroots efforts, in addition to the current occupant of the White House.

“Voter registration drives, being more aggressive reaching out, and a lot of it has to do with Trump too. People are more alert of what’s going on because of him, because of his anti-immigration policies, and trying to treat us unfairly,” he said. “Since it’s an attack on our community directly, it gives people more desire to register to vote to try to get him out in 2020.”

Job and healthcare concerns are also motivating people to register to vote, according to Rodriguez.

“Immigration reform is the number one issue I’m hearing out there. And jobs—although jobs have increased, more Latinos are not well employed. And, there are issues with healthcare,” he said, referring in particular to efforts by Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Pat Christmas, the Policy Director at the Committee of Seventy, a nonpartisan civic leadership organization in Philadelphia, echoed Rodriguez’s observations of grassroots activity.

“There does seem to be a good bit more grassroots work, not just in Philadelphia, but across the state,” he noted. ”I know there are immigrant-facing groups, and there have been a good number of groups working to register young people in high schools and on college campuses.”

Christmas also credited online voter registration with easing the enrollment process in Pennsylvania for aspiring voters across the board.

“There has been a very significant uptick in online voter registration applications being used instead of the paper versions,” he said. “That’s a big deal because they’re cheaper to process, and much more importantly, there are fewer opportunities for mistakes to be made.”  

Now, it is up to voters to actually cast their votes.

“Between eight and 12 percent of registered [Latino] voters come out and vote here,” Rodriguez said. “A lot of Latinos here in Philadelphia don’t feel that the government is working. What they feel is that whether they go out and vote or not, it doesn’t matter.”

Serna, at least, is optimistic that voters will turn out.

“More Latinos are voting because this administration is against our community and we can’t support such anti-immigrant and inhumane policies,” she said.

“Within the immigrant community there is significant desire to put an end to the current administration,” she added. “And the Latino and immigrant votes are going to be decisive.”

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