By Gabe Meline
For the past few Saturdays, and on each Saturday until Election Day, volunteers for Sonoma County's Coalition for Latino Civic Engagement (CLACE) will canvas the Roseland neighborhood in Santa Rosa, going door to door to encourage and assist those in the Latino community to register to vote. The program is called Su Voto Es Su Voz ("Your Vote Is Your Voice"), and according to CLACE founding member Jaime Peñaherrera, "it's been highly successful and well received by the community."
In groups made up almost entirely of high school volunteers, the outreach team knocks on approximately 125 doors per weekend. Sometimes the people who answer the door are already registered but don't vote, Peñaherrera says, "or there are some people who are not qualified to register. We hit 125 homes. Out of those, I'd say 10 percent of those we're able to register."
Ten percent might not sound like much, but the backbone of a democracy is that every vote counts, and according to August 2008 figures from the Public Policy Institute, Latino voters are disproportionately represented in California. Latinos make up 32 percent of the state's population, but only 15 percent of likely voters. In contrast to other voter groups, likely Latino voters are also younger and poorer. Most are under the age of 45, and 38 percent make less than $45,000 a year.
"That's a discrepancy we're hoping to address," says CLACE founding member Dr. Francisco Vázquez. "By promoting the participation of Latino voters, we expect to shape an electorate that reflects the diversity of the entire population, to focus public policy on issues that affect Latinos, which, by implication, also affect the entire community."
Su Voto Es Su Voce is a nonpartisan effort. Peñaherrera notes that in addition to registering voters, simply educating already registered Latinos about their options—such as mail-in absentee voting for those who work two or three jobs—can be tremendously helpful. "It's hard to quantify how much spiral effect you have from that," he says. "But in addition, I think what excites me the most, to be honest with you, is the fact that those kids are going out there. They're really carrying the flag, and at the end of the day, they'll tell all their friends."
CLACE plans to go house to house every Saturday afternoon, from 1pm to 5pm, until election day. For more information, or to volunteer, see www.clace.org or call 707.523.8804.
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