Tu Voto Tiene Poder
Updated: Oct 31
Young Hispanic voters should tap into their political potential and make sure their vote counts in the next elections.
By Fiorella Recchioni and Valeri Hernandez Godinez
Fiorella Recchioni is a second year student at the University of Florida pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Political Science with a minor in Mass Communications; she currently serves as a communications intern with the Campus Vote Project. Fiorella was born and raised in the U.S. after her parents emigrated from Argentina, but she grew up speaking Spanish surrounded by Latino family and friends.
Valeri Hernandez Godinez is a third year student at Miami University (OH) pursuing a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree in English Literature and a minor in Social Justice Studies. Valeri is a part of the Student Advisory Board as the Hispanic/Latinx Representative in Campus Vote Project. Valeri came to the United States from Mexico when she was twelve years old and has been part of her mother’s as well as her own path to citizenship and how they both became more civically engaged citizens.
To many, Latinos seem to be a hidden minority group - often present but rarely impactful. In popular media, a report by the Latino Donor Collaborative found that in 2022, Latinos represent only 5.2 percent and 5.1 percent of lead and co-lead actors in films; for TV, those numbers fall to 3.1 percent and 2.1 percent. In public office, only 1 percent of Latinos are elected officials. For those that see only these representations of Hispanics and Latinos, it can be surprising to learn that Hispanic and Latino Americans make up the largest minority group in the United States, totaling 18.9 percent of the total population.
All of this is to say that, contrary to what Hollywood and U.S. politics may want us to believe, our place in this country matters. Hispanics and Latinos play an undeniable role in bolstering the economy, and hold a considerable amount of power in shaping our political landscape. This last point is something that many may not yet understand, as Latinos have the lowest registration and voter turnout rate of all major racial and ethnic groups. In an era shaped by polarization and perpetually-close vote totals, the Hispanic voting bloc, when in action, shapes entire elections.
If you are a young Latino, then your registration and vote takes the community even further. According to the Hispanic Access Foundation, every 30 seconds, a Latino citizen turns 18 years old. This means that every minute, there are two new potential Latino voters in this country. In 2020, 32 million Hispanics registered to vote, causing our voter turnout to be 30 percent higher than in 2016. Within all of these numbers lie a political potential that remains untapped due to a gap in voter registration and turnout. For example, if all eligible Hispanic voters actually voted in the 2020 election, there would have been an increase of 14 million votes. The difference in votes between then-President Donald Trump and our current president Joe Biden was just half of this.
For many Latinos, this disparity is caused by the tedious process of voter registration. Some may have had a busy work day and were unable to reach the polls. Others may not have come from a family that prioritized voting. As young Hispanic voters, we answered some questions about what civic engagement looks like in our lives.
Question: What is your first memory involving civic engagement?
Valeri Hernandez Godinez: My first memory involving civic engagement goes back to a whole different country. I remember being seven years old living in Mexico and accompanying my grandmother to go vote in the presidential election. I remember hearing people talk about what each candidate wanted to do and how everyone should go and vote.
Fiorella Recchioni: Civic engagement was never something that my parents brought up on a regular basis. They came to the U.S. after the economy crashed in Argentina, so they carried with them a disillusionment about the political process. Regardless, even though I was very young, I remember well when my dad was naturalized and became a U.S. citizen. I’m not sure if voting was on his list of priorities back then, but more recently, my mom was naturalized; I got to help both of my parents vote in the most recent elections.
Q: When did your interest in civic engagement start?
VHG: My interest for civic engagement started my freshman year of college when I found out about the Wilks Institute for Leadership and Service at my university and became a fellow for Civic Engagement. I had always been passionate about bettering my community but once I was introduced to the term “civic engagement”, my whole perspective changed. I was trained on how to register voters and began to do institutional work and my knowledge just continued to grow.
FR: I can trace my interest in political participation back to one of my middle school teachers - Mr. Brown. I first took his “Critical Thinking” class in sixth grade, where he seemed to make it a goal that we gather as much practical knowledge about civics in the U.S. as we could in a class that had nothing to do with it. Over the course of a year, we learned about how the government works, listened to newscasts daily, and closely followed the 2016 election. It was in listening to these politicians debate up on a stage in little nuance about something as complex as immigration reform that I wished for the first time to be involved in such discussions.
Q: What got you interested in working with an organization such as the Fair Elections Center’s Campus Vote Project?
VHG: My journey with the Fair Elections Center started through my role as a fellow for Civic Engagement at the Wilks Institute for Leadership and Service at Miami University. I was introduced to Campus Vote Project where I served as a Democracy Fellow for two semesters and am currently the Hispanic/ Latinx Representative on the Student Advisory Board. Now to answer the actual question, my interest in working with this organization began from wanting to gain a network with more resources and learn about what other students were doing on their respective campuses. Then, I applied to SAB to create a bigger impact not only on my campus but on a national level for my community.
FR: I’m always looking for opportunities to work in policy areas that matter to me, and voter accessibility is one that I’ve been interested in for a while. My university has an institute called the Bob Graham Center which sends out a weekly newsletter, and I saw a posting for a Communications Intern position with the Campus Vote Project. I applied because I wanted to learn more about what communications looks like at a national group, but I accepted the position because of the experience I could gain by working on different projects within the organization. I was glad to be able to contribute to our Hispanic Voter toolkit and to this blog post.
Q: Why do you do voter advocacy work?
VHG: I do voter advocacy work because I believe in the importance of exercising our right to vote and the change that can be done with doing so. Our vote is our voice and if we want to see a change, it has to start with ourselves, it does not matter how small it may seem.
FR: I think that the system we currently have heavily disadvantages U.S. voters in how complicated voter registration is in certain parts of the nation. Each state has different deadlines before elections, and different rules for how they can vote, and the entire burden for learning about these rules is placed solely on the voter. Oftentimes, those that suffer these burdens most heavily are also those that should make their vote most heard - working class and minority groups. Anything that I can do in helping these voters reach the ballot box, to me, seems extremely valuable.
Q: What has been your favorite memory while doing this work?
VHG: My favorite memory while doing this work has been seeing the impact that I can make. From registering people to vote to being there for them at the polls ensuring that they are able to cast their vote.
FR: Last year, I worked with an organization on campus to register students to vote, which involved a lot of standing around and interrupting passers by to ask if they were registered. I’m not the most social person, but such a role requires you to break out of your comfort zone and talk to people even if they don’t want to talk to you. By the end of it, I somehow found it fun to engage with random students and basically match their vibes to keep them talking to you. It was always exciting whenever I successfully collected a registration.
Q: How does being Hispanic/Latino affect your relationship with voter advocacy and accessibility?
VHG: I embrace my Latino identity in every aspect of my life, I am proud of who I am and I am passionate about making a difference in my community. With that being said, I am also aware that not every Hispanic/Latino has the right to vote and getting those who do to use it is fundamental to bettering our community.
FR: I know firsthand what voting barriers look like for Hispanics and Latinos because I’ve seen it with my family and others in my community. There is a need for voter education, especially among Hispanics and Latinos. I also personally know several Latinos who aren’t citizens, but are as affected by elections and policymakers as those who are. It is essential that every eligible Hispanic and Latino votes so that the interests of those who can’t are still represented in the electoral process.
Q: What do you think is the biggest voting barrier that Hispanic/Latino voters face today?
VHG: I believe that the biggest voting barrier that Hispanic/ Latino voters face today is not having any guidance for the voting process. Most Hispanic/ Latino voters are also first time voters in their families meaning that they are paving the path.
FR: Learning how the voter registration process works is oftentimes not a priority when you lead a busy everyday life. For those who become naturalized, they also have to take that extra step to register - something that happens automatically in most Latin American countries. All of this together means that a culture of civic engagement is often not present in Hispanic families. Especially in families where parents and grandparents immigrated to the U.S. and may not yet be citizens, this burden often falls on their children as they reach voting age. Who is meant to guide you in the voting process if those guiding figures haven’t voted themselves?
Q: What are some ways to reduce voting barriers for Hispanic/Latino voters?
VHG: I believe that some of the ways to reduce voting barriers for Hispanic/ Latino voters are to make resources as available as possible, trying to be in every place where Hispanic/ Latinos are and just putting all the resources out there as much as possible.
FR: There are a variety of ways to reduce these barriers beyond just policymaking. Consolidating resources in easy-to-read formats is just one initiative that several groups such as the Fair Elections Center have taken. Making sure that these resources are language accessible as well means that some Hispanic and Latino voters can take less time and energy to figure out the voting process. Word of mouth is also very effective - if you are a young Latino engaged with the voting process, make sure to talk to your friends and family to make sure they are registered and know how to vote in upcoming elections. In the end, though, policymaking (that we can advocate for) is the most valuable way of systematically reducing these barriers. Requiring election materials in multiple languages, making the registration process less complex, and increasing early and mail-in voting accessibility reduce barriers for all voters, not just Hispanic and Latino.
Q: Do you see Hispanic/Latino voter advocacy in your future?
VHG: I definitely see Hispanic/Latino voter advocacy in my future. Upon graduation from Miami University, I plan to pursue a JD and practice either Immigration or Human Rights Law, both of which are very closely related to Hispanic/Latino’s issues. I see myself ten years from now still being an advocate for my community and still registering people to vote. This is just a part of my life that I hope will never change, a work that I never want to stop doing.
FR: I am not yet sure what my future will exactly look like, but I do plan on still advocating for the issues that I care about. Hispanic and Latino voter advocacy can be something as small as urging my parents to register and vote before elections - which I definitely see myself doing for many years into the future. I hope to at least work in an area of politics and/or law that includes initiatives helping Hispanic and Latino voters
Every single vote counts, and now more than ever every Hispanic and Latino vote counts. As the Hispanic/Latino community continues to grow, so does the impact that we can have in the way the country continues to shape. It is fundamental for every eligible Hispanic/Latino 18-year-old to have the resources they need to exercise their right to vote. As the fastest growing minority group, it is in our hands to be part of the change we want to see. It all starts with one person who mobilizes their community and makes a lasting difference.
In the Hispanic and Latino community, voting is more than using one’s voice but about being a voice for those who do not have one. We can be the voice for our parents, grandparents, or ancestors who came to this country looking for a better life. It is on us to make this country a better place for generations to come. We cannot complain about the state of our country if we do not do anything to stop them from happening.
Voting is a right but it is also a privilege that Hispanics and Latinos did not always have. This is why it is so important to register to vote and make your voices heard. Every vote counts and united we can make a difference. This is why we have created a toolkit with resources specifically put together with the Hispanic/Latino community in mind.
The toolkit we’ve created contains information and statistics on how impactful the Hispanic/ Latinx vote is. We’ve also included election laws for every state in the nation (some of these are also available in Spanish), as well as more resources created for Hispanic/ Latinx voters.