In the days following the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer and the nationwide protests that ensued, Voto Latino, an organization that encourages young Latinx voters to become more politically involved, saw a more than 2,750% jump in its voter registration numbers.
Between June 1 and 10, the organization signed up 63,158 new voters. During the first 10 days in May, the group had registered just 2,294 people.
“Our job at Voto Latino is talking to the individuals that have been protesting on the streets for the past weeks because those are the young people that are going to be the largest generation of our life,” Voto Latino CEO Maria Teresa Kumar told Fortune. “We’ve never seen a generation so large. It’s 12 million potential more voters than baby boomers, and we have to recognize that the system hasn’t been feeding them and addressing their core issues.”
The organization has always been online, which has aided in its success during times when in-person voter registration drives are largely impossible. “We started as digital natives, and we are in the most intimate spaces that these young people are in. We’re on their phones through their Instagrams and social platforms. We’ve been experimenting on TikTok and Tinder and getting the word out, and they’re reciprocating by signing up,” Kumar said.
She pointed to a project done in conjunction with Google where Voto Latino showed 200,000 YouTube viewers a 13-second pre-roll advertisement telling them to register to vote followed by another six-second video at the end of the clip. The people who saw the treatment were nine times as likely to search for words that involved voter registration, and about 10,000 of them actually registered to vote.
“What that tells us is that nobody is targeting the Latino community, but when we break it down, it’s easy to, and they’re receptive,” she said. “They want to participate, but most people don’t reach out to young voters, because there’s still this idea that they don’t vote. In the Latino community we’re carrying the water for our families. We’re not only receptive, we’re responsible for the information that we give to our elders, so you want to make sure that we’re doing something impactful.”
Voto Latino currently reaches about 8.5 million people each month using social media and uses the platform to educate its community about voting issues. The organization has also cultivated a community of activists who have started to run for office. Gregorio Casar, the youngest city councilman in Austin’s history, was trained by Voto Latino, as was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “They did these trainings and realized they could be active voters and be in office,” said Kumar.
The organization’s digital footprint has been felt most in Texas. As voter registration in the state flatlined owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, Voto Latino has managed to add 53,093 new names to the rolls this month alone. Harris County, which encompasses Houston and is the most populated county in the state of Texas, recorded just 1,451 new voters between March 15th and May 15th of this year. Voto Latino says they they’ve signed up 9,106 new voters in the county in June alone.
“There’s 2.5 million unregistered Latino youth in Texas who are out on the street with grievances that stretch far and wide,” said Kumar. “It’s Pollyannaish to assume that this isn’t going to be one of the most challenging elections to convince people that we have to change, but COVID has also touched every corner of American life and exposed our social inequities where I do believe that people are ready for change.”
Texas, which in recent years has gone from ruby red to purple in its voting, will be a hotly contested state in the November elections. President Donald Trump visited this week to hold a campaign dinner, and Joe Biden was there earlier in the week to meet with the family of George Floyd.
“It’s crucial to register young Latinos and get them to turn out,” said 2020 presidential candidate and Voto Latino senior adviser Julián Castro. “I think first and foremost this is crucial to improving the economic outcomes and life of people in the state…And the impact, I believe, is that when those registered young Latinos make their choices at the ballot box, that the state is going to turn blue. It’s going to transition over the years.”
Trump is currently polling ahead of Biden in Texas by just 1.5 points. He won the state by nine points in 2016.
“The majority of Democrats, if they’re registered to vote, they’re going to go out, and they’re going to vote,” said Kumar. Voto Latino officially backed Biden for President this year—the first time they’ve endorsed a political candidate.
“When we endorsed Joe Biden it wasn’t easy, because we had a lot of come-to-Jesus moments even internally at our office because so many people were concerned,” she said. “But…our job is to bring the community along because the stakes couldn’t be higher for the Latino community.”
Kumar pointed to a new office created by Trump’s Department of Justice to denaturalize immigrants in the U.S. “That’s obscene,” she said. “One out of 10 voters that are going to be able to cast a ballot in November are naturalized citizens. I’m a naturalized citizen. Our job is to say, ‘We know how the system works. We need your participation. Ask us any question as raw as it is, and we will try to provide you guidance, because what we need right now is for you to show up in November for yourself and for your family.’”
Voto Latino, meanwhile, is fighting a narrative that younger voters, who tend to vote blue, aren’t excited about Joe Biden’s candidacy and may not come out to the polls this November.
“Oftentimes they say that the system is rigged. I’d say, ‘No—the system works just as it should for the people who occupy it.’ Our job is to make sure that the young people occupy the voting booth,” said Kumar.
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