Several local organizations are giving one last push today to boost voter turnout in tomorrow’s local elections, when participation is generally lower than in federal and state-wide election years.
“People don’t realize how big of an impact local elections have on their lives,” OLA of Eastern Long Island executive director Minerva Perez said.
Latino, African-American and other minorities are often key voting blocs and community advocates are looking to reach as many of these prospective voters as possible.
OLA, a non-partisan, nonprofit organization that promotes social, economic, cultural and educational development for the Latino community in the East End, has organized direct calls through phone bank campaigns in Spanish, where they call registered voters on the South Fork and North Fork and remind them of the importance of local elections and urge them to vote.
“The official lists we have are often not up-to-date and when we call, we may not necessarily reach the person we want, but we will engage whoever answers the phone and tell them the importance of voting in tomorrow’s election,” Perez said.
“Historically, at a local level the number of voters that come out is so much smaller [than general elections,] nobody gets excited. Our goal is to engage Latino voters at the local level,” she said
Nationwide, the number of Latino eligible voters has increased significantly to about 12% of all eligible voters, and a record 27.3 million were able to cast ballots last year according to the Pew Research Center, and although SEPA Mujer voter registration coordinator Rommy Aznaron said that same increase is reflected in Suffolk County, there is work to do to get people to the polls.
“There are a lot more Latino eligible voters this year. Many people have naturalized or reached the legal age to vote, which is why it’s important to reach out and tell them about their rights,” she said.
Aznaran said that SEPA Mujer (Services for the Advancement of Women,) a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization whose goal is to empower Latina women through a wide array of programs and chapters throughout Suffolk County, has organized a series of events at local libraries, universities and other centers with the goal of educating the community, as well as registering voters.
“People don’t understand the power of their vote, they think that if they don’t vote it’s okay, but it’s not,” she said. “Each ballot is important and local elections are crucial.”
She said that even when people are not eligible to vote — they may not be old enough, or have registered on time or have the proper documentation needed — they can help by spreading the word about the importance of voting and they can even help educate others about the different issues at stake, the candidates running and other matters of importance.
SEPA Mujer started their registration campaign in September. Only those who registered through Oc.13 will be able to vote in tomorrow’s elections. Aznaran said that, since then, they have focused on calling people and explaining to registered voters why it matters they show up tomorrow.
“After tomorrow’s elections we will go back to focus on registrations and education since we have until December to register voters for next year’s election,” she said.
Like Aznaran, Perez said their organizations are nonpartisan, and besides registering voters, their focus is on explaining the meaning of local elections and also the roles and responsibilities of the positions candidates are running for. She said she thinks social media is the best way to reach people and educate them so they can engage civically.
“There is a disconnect between minority and Latino voters that are registered and what they’re voting for. We need to better connect the dots and let the prospective voters know what and who it is they’re voting for,” Perez said. “We need to educate them: what is a trustee? What function does the Town clerk have?”
Perez said today though, the race to reach Latino voters through phone calls in Spanish is what they’re focusing on.
“The idea is that we make the most of every single phone call today, focusing on local elections, and local politics,” she said.