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California Latino, youth voting lagged behind in 2020, study shows
"Even with this historically high turnout, we knew there would still be disparities", Dr. Mindy Romero, the Center for Inclusive Democracy's founder and director, said in an interview with LPO.

Despite record turnout in the November 2020 election, Latino voters continue to be underrepresented in California, according to new data released by the University of Southern California Sol Price of Public Policy.

According to the data, the total eligible turnout rate (the percentage of adults who voted) reached 67.4%, up 10% from the 2016 general election. Latino eligible turnout was 53% in 2020, compared to 46.4% in 2016.

This figure, however, represents a 14.4 percentage point gap between Latinos and the wider population, compared to 10.9 percentage points in 2016.

In 2020, the total eligible turnout for Californians who are not Latino or Asian-Asian stood at 80.9%, up from 66.3% in 2016.

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"Even with this historically high turnout, we knew there would still be disparities. Race and ethnicity are really entrenched in our electoral system in the United States," Dr. Mindy Romero, the Center for Inclusive Democracy's founder and director, said in an interview with LPO. "That doesn't go away just because we have historically high turnout."

Latin youth in particular turned out at lower levels than the turnout of youth overall, with 39.3% of Latino vote between the ages of 18 and 24 voting. Overall, youth turnout was 47.4% in 2020.  

Even with this historically high turnout, we knew there would still be disparities. Race and ethnicity are really entrenched in our electoral system in the United States

Dr. Romero added that there are many possible explanations why eligible Latinos did not vote, ranging from inability to miss work hours to a lack of information about the candidates or the electoral process.

"There are also, I think, a good chunk of non-voters that sit out because they feel uncertain. They don't trust the system. That's from all races and ethnicities," she said. "Some have a lack of trust in our electoral system. There's a lot of skepticism. I don't think it's about them being foolish or misinformed. There are whole communities that feel left out of our electoral process."

Despite the statistics, the share of the Latino vote in California went up to 24.3% from 22.8% in 2016. Driven by population growth, the share of Latino voters in California was the highest of any statewide election since at least 2002, the earliest date for which election data is available.

"That means that Latinos have more political voice, and power, as voters in California, but they're still underrepresented. There's still that representation gap, because of course their population is growing," Dr. Romero added. 

Among the key barriers, Romero said, is voter registration. In 2020, the difference in registration rates between Latinos and the overall population was 11.5 percentage points.

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"There's a registration gap that is entrenched in our society, and in California. We've heard a lot about increased registration rates, and that should be celebrated, but among Latinos and young people, there's that gap," Dr. Romero said. "If you look at Latinos, it's actually widened since the last election."

"It really underscores the urgency of getting people registered. People can't vote unless they are registered," she added. "We're obviously not starting on a level playing field when it comes to registration. We have a long way to go and there is a lot of work to be done."

While Dr. Romero said it remains to be seen exactly what impact that the Covid-19 pandemic and state restrictions had on the electoral process.  

Latin youth in particular turned out at lower levels than the turnout of youth overall, with 39.3% of Latino vote between the ages of 18 and 24 voting. Overall, youth turnout was 47.4% in 2020.

"Could the pandemic have maybe impacted or suppressed the vote in some way? That could have been the case, but we don't know yet without further research," she said. "It could also be that whites were particularly motivated. There could also be other factors involved. The pandemic required a lot of outreach and education for voters, and Latinos are less likely to get that outreach."

"But I want to emphasize that these gaps are not caused by the pandemic," she added. "No matter what, we would have expected gaps to remain. What is surprising here is that there wasn't a narrowing. The larger explanation is that these gaps are entrenched in our society."

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California Democrats lost four congressional seats to Republicans in the 2020 election. While data regarding racial and ethnic turnout in specific areas is not yet available, decreased voter participation from Latinos is generally believed to harm Democratic candidates.

Looking to the future, Dr. Romero said there were a number of steps that she believes authorities can take to boost voter turnout in future elections.

"We certainly need to continue to make it easier for people to vote, through things like automatic voter registration, expanded vote-by-mail, same-day registration and pre-registration of young people," she said. "All of those things are helpful, but we also need outreach and mobilization efforts that currently don't reach many Latino communities."

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