January 23, 2019
With every new election cycle, I am asked many questions by many news organizations about the Latino vote, mainly: "Is this the year Latinos make their presence felt at the ballot box?"
My answer over the last several years, including the 2018 midterm election, is a consistent "yes and no," which is not exactly a welcomed response for a news media seeking a simple answer to a complex inquiry. But I explain the apparent contradiction: The answer is "yes" because indeed, with each election cycle more and more Latinos will vote as Arizona moves closer to becoming a majority-minority state; and "no," because Latinos are a younger Arizona demographic, with the median age around 26 instead of 43 for non-Hispanic Whites.
There is a maturation process that must take place among Latinos that only time can affect. In other words, a Latina celebrating her quinceañera (a girl's coming-of-age 15th birthday) today is not going to magically turn 18 tomorrow. She is a few voting cycles away from being eligible to vote.
Also, as I pointed out last week as a panelist at The Latino Vote forum, sponsored by Chicanos Por La Causa, Latinos still fall into the three categories that traditionally vote in low numbers - young, poor and undereducated. A disproportionate number of Latinos fall into all three boxes.
Everyone thinks low voter turnout among Latinos is something cultural, but it's really not. Non-Latinos who are young, live in poverty and/or don't graduate from high school or college also largely do not vote.
But there have been successes for the Latino vote, including in this last midterm election, as my fellow panelists from NALEO, MALDEF and UnidosUS pointed out. And those successes have been hard earned by Latino and voter advocacy groups. There is reason to celebrate, but there is still much work to be done to maintain and improve Latino voter turnout.
I also noted that there is an X-Factor concerning the Latino vote that often is overlooked – certainly by the news media because I've yet to see any of them print this aspect despite my emphasis: The "Latino vote" is larger than simply votes cast by Latinos.
In other words, there is a natural assimilation among Latino newcomers to the United States, but there also is an acculturation, if you want to call it that, among non-Latinos who are brought into and become part of the "Latino family." These include not only those non-Latinos who marry into Latino families, but also non-Latino friends, neighbors, coworkers and even business folk who come to understand and then advocate for issues that are often considered "Latino issues" – education, economic opportunity, housing and equality.
As a result, they are increasingly voting accordingly.
Now, more individuals - regardless of ethnicity - still must register and actually vote. As the Morrison Institute for Public Policy report, "Arizona's Voter Crisis," pointed out, even in a heralded turnout for the 2018 midterm election, about half of all voting-age and otherwise eligible voters did not cast a ballot. That's hardly a healthy representative democracy. So, challenges remain.
"Arizona's Emerging Latino Voter," another Morrison Institute report, noted how Arizona's changing demographics will result in a sea change in Arizona's electorate and thereby its political landscape, with more Latino voters increasingly becoming eligible to cast ballots as the state moves closer to becoming a majority-minority state around 2030.
That change will occur more quickly if voter registration and voter participation among Latinos improve beyond the traditionally lower percentages than non-Latino White voters, especially when combined with the "non-Latino Latino vote," for lack of a better term.
As Latinos go, so goes Arizona.
This is no secret, nor should it pose any threat, as our state's workforce, leadership, economic drivers and demographics increasingly become Latino. That's because we all benefit when we all benefit. That philosophy likely will be reinforced in future years at the ballot box.