Last month’s mayoral election in Los Angeles once again highlighted a disturbing reality facing the city: low voter turnout. Only 19 percent of registered voters went to the polls.
This voter apathy is not unique to Los Angeles, though. In fact, it’s a problem statewide. According to a recent Census report on registration and voting in the 2012 presidential elections, California ranks 48th in the country in electoral participation.
One major factor in that abysmal number is that California’s rapid Latino population growth is far outpacing any increase in Latino voter turnout. A report from the California Civic Engagement Project at the University of California, Davis, indicates that while the Latino vote in California increased by 67 percent from 2002-2010 (compared to 37 percent of the overall vote), only two out of five eligible Latinos actually voted in the 2012 presidential election.
As a result, overall voter turnout was 17 percent higher than the rate among Latinos.
USC Sol Price School of Public Policy/Los Angeles Times Poll
To find out what is depressing voter turnout statewide and among Latinos in particular, the University of Southern California (USC) and the Los Angeles Times polled 500 registered voters on LA’s recent mayoral primary. According to the poll, Latinos said they aren’t voting because:
- they couldn’t go to the polls on that day (40.4 percent)
- they didn’t have enough information about the candidates (27 percent),
- and they didn’t know or forgot about the day when the elections were going to take place (16 percent).
Latinocalifornia.com conducted an informal poll to hear directly from Latinos on why they’re not voting. Their reasons ranged from a lack of interest in politics to a lack of awareness about the proposals and candidates.
LACK OF TRUST
Californians have shown a consistent trust deficit with elected leaders in recent polling and the Latino community is no exception.
“People tell me they don’t vote because politicians don’t do as they say,” said Eric Díaz, activist and director of Maywood for All. “Latinos say that when politicians want their vote they reach out to the community, but disappear soon after. They no longer believe in the government or a candidate’s promises,” he said .
Jesús Hernández Cuéllar, a journalist and the founder and CEO of Contacto magazine, agrees. The low Latino voter turnout is a combination of several factors, “but it’s mainly attributed to the fact that immigrants come from countries where the political structure is far less efficient than here. We come to this country with the mindset that no matter whether we vote or not, politicians will never push initiatives in our interest.”
Carmen Torres of Los Angeles, confesses that she and several of her friends and family are turned off by fighting between candidates and the lack of clarity on the proposed initiatives.
“Elections become a war and candidates attack each other like animals,” exclaimed Torres. “They focus on attacks, rather than the issues, leaving us confused and lacking clarity on proposed initiatives,” she added.
LA actress Anna Salazar Cabarcos believes that the main reason behind voter apathy is that whether or not people vote, they continue to have the same benefits: Public safety, food, and social assistance programs such as Medical and Section 8.
ELECTIONS ARE HELD IN THE MIDDLE OF THE WEEK
Many Latinos work from sunrise to sunset and when they finally are off from work, the polls are closed.
“Our community lacks interest to begin with, but the fact that elections are held in the middle of the week complicates things even more for people who work,” said Juan Montañez, a community activist.
To some, the problem is cultural.
“The truth is that Latinos have no culture of accountability, we have always let others make decisions for us, we are very good at criticizing but not at participating and becoming engaged. We tend to rely on others, that’s why we are marginalized and officials don’t listen to us,” said Jose Aguirre.
THE MEDIA IS RESPONSIBLE
Steve Allan Castro of San Francisco blames the media for the lack of voter information. “Spanish TV stations devote more air time to soap operas, movies and sports than to the information that will ensure Latinos know how, when, and where to vote,” Castro said.
Nelson García, a native Angeleno, indicates that many Latinos work from sunrise to sunset and when they are off from work the polls are closed. He said the problem is that some times Latinos don’t know which candidate to vote for because they don’t identify with anyone.
The reasons for lower-than-average voter turnout in Latino communities run the gamut, but one thing is clear: Latinos constituted 19 percent of the California electorate last year, but will represent a whopping 40 percent by 2040 at the current pace, making this an issue that requires immediate attention.