In the final weeks leading up to the election, Arianna Genis, 29, has been working double shifts every day, training canvassers and knocking on the doors of Latino voters in North Carolina. As the state director for Mijente, a Latinx advocacy group, Genis helps ensure that her team members, many of whom are also Latinas, are prepared to talk to prospective voters. They’re trained on voting rights and social distancing. And when it comes to their scripts, they need to be able to flip easily between English and Spanish, making people comfortable enough to ask questions about the voting process.
Since September, they’ve been knocking on about 7,000 doors a week and are on track to hit 30,000 houses, according to Genis. It’s been one long day after another, but as Genis and her team know, if they don’t do it, it’s unlikely that someone else will. “Latinos are an afterthought,” she says. “We see again and again that campaigns wait until the last two weeks of the election to reach out to us. But people are hungry to participate.”
Over the past decade, Latinos have accounted for more than half of the country’s population growth. This year, they also make up 13 percent of eligible voters overall, the largest of any non-White demographic, and in key battleground states such as Florida and Arizona, Latinos are more than 20 percent of the electorate. In other words, they’re a critical voting bloc, one that pundits have pointed to for years as crucial to turning certain red and purple states blue.
Now, organizers are realizing the key to energizing the demographic: engaging Latinas.
Mindy Romero, founding director of the University of Southern California’s Center for Inclusive Democracy, has been researching Latino voter trends for 20 years. In that time, Romero has, like Genis, noticed that campaigns typically don’t engage Latino voters. “Campaigns don’t have the money to reach every potential voter, so they target ‘likely voters,’ but because they haven’t put in the work to connect with Latinos, they’re not seen as likely voters,” she says.
In general, women vote more frequently than men, but the gap is typically wider among Latinos, according to Romero’s research. Latinas who are 18 to 24 vote at nearly 13 percentage points higher than their Latino counterparts, and even as they age, Latina women continue to have a higher turnout compared with Latino men until they’re about 65. Although some Latino men are enduring supporters of President Trump — drawn in by the machismo they identify in the president — Latinas overwhelmingly support Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
What’s more, for many Latinos, it’s amá, or the woman, who runs the household. “Latina women keep the house running,” says Yara Marin, a community organizer in Arizona.
Born and raised in Phoenix, Marin, now 24, began volunteering as a canvasser when she was 16, eventually working her way up to become the political director of the civic engagement organization Mi Familia Vota’s Arizona division. She was the first person in her family to go to college, and the first one to cast a vote in an election. From her vantage point, “victory in Arizona runs through the Latino community,” and as the population continues to grow, she knows it will be impossible for campaigns to ignore them.
Latinos are also one of the youngest ethnic groups in the United States. In 2016, nearly half of the U.S.-born Latino population was under 18. In the four years since, some 4 million Latinos reached voting age. Marin’s story is the story of millions of other Latinas who were the first in their families to vote. Although Latinas have historically had lower turnouts than women in other ethnic groups, Marin and other organizers believe in their untapped potential.
This is something Genis has seen firsthand. Just last week, she was knocking on doors in Durham, N.C., and approached a house where a family was chatting on the front porch. When she asked if they planned on voting for Trump, they bristled a bit at the line of questioning, but suggested she speak with Guadalupe, the matriarch of the family. By the time Genis had finished talking to her, Guadalupe had asked about her closest polling location and the polling location for her sisters, and she pledged to get her whole household to vote. Even while phone-banking, Genis says her team had to update their scripts, because they encountered so many Latinas who themselves couldn’t vote, but who would put their voting-eligible children on the phone instead.
Throughout the country, grass-roots organizations led by Latinas are similarly trying to mobilize Latinos to get out to the polls. In Florida, where much has been made of conservative-leaning Cuban Americans, Maria Revelles of Vamos4PR, a network of organizations dedicated to empowering Puerto Ricans on the island and on the mainland, is homing in on the Latina vote. After Hurricane Maria in 2017, many Latinos left the island, leading to a sizable increase of Puerto Ricans in the Sunshine State.
“We know the power of Latinx women,” Revelles says. “These are women who really see themselves in [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez], for example. Women who consider themselves climate change refugees because of the hurricane. They can’t vote for president on the island, but they want to make a change now that they’re here.”
To help Florida’s Puerto Rican community connect with the voting process stateside, Revelles and her team have tried to replicate many of the same mobilizing tactics that proved successful on the island. From caravans to door-knocking to tapping local religious leaders to lead phone-banking efforts, these tactics use cultural literacy to get the community excited to vote. “Campaigns are light-years away from really understanding our community,” Revelles says. “They use terms like Latino, Latinx, Hispanic interchangeably like a big blanket, when really it’s a quilt. We share certain history and languages, but our journeys are very different. Campaigns just haven’t done the work.”
With Election Day only a day away, Revelles has stayed up late into the night thinking about all of the different ways the election might play out. But there’s one thing she knows for sure.