The right to vote

Today is Martin Luther King Jr day. The morning news shows are showing clips of the Selma march.  Oprah, John Legend and Common are discussing their latest movie. Above all, we are reminded of what African Americans have had to overcome just to gain the right to vote. After seeing all this, I’m left asking myself “when will these stories apply to the Latino community?”

Latinos areas now the largest ethnic minority group in the United States. Yet, the percentage of Latinos who step into the voting booth is low. Too low.

Latinos are impacted more than whites by policies on topics ranging from education, justice,  social programs, and, yes, immigration.

Because Latinos, like many minorities, tend to be of a lower economic status, they make use of public schools, have greater interaction with police, qualify for public assistance, and are likely to personally know someone in the United States who is undocumented. Yet they don’t register to vote. Worse, many who are registered, don’t vote.

When I ask people why they’re not registered to vote, they tell me “my vote doesn’t matter,” “I don’t know who to vote for,” “I don’t want to get called for jury duty, ” and many other similar excuses.

If I tell them why their votes do matter, or how to research candidates and measures on the ballot, I may get a polite smile, or a nod, but both I and the person I’m speaking with both know that they aren’t going to register and /or vote.

If I’m being honest with myself, I have to admit that in many ways those potential voters may be right.

In many places their votes don’t matter, that much. I live near a city that holds at-large elections. There are some neighborhoods that are distinctly minority-heavy. These neighborhoods consistently vote for Democratic, and left-leaning candidates. Yet the conservative city council has consistently refused to consider going to district based elections. The net effect of this is to essentially silence the voice of minority voters in this city.

Studies have shown that first time offenders who are sentenced to house arrest with probation have a much lower recidivism rate than first time offenders who are sentenced to boot camps or incarceration. Yet the house arrest /probation option is virtually reserved for offenders who are white, while minority offenders are overwhelmingly sentenced to boot camp or incarceration. This just serves to reinforce the lack of male role models in minority neighborhoods. I won’t even discuss the lack of effective legal representation for minority offenders.

The judicial imbalance is not directly affected by our votes as other issues. So it is easy to see why this topic does not inspire a lot of “I gotta vote” feelings in people. Yet, vote we must.

Ironically, the undocumented people I interact with are more likely to step up on their own behalf than Latinos we who can actually cast a ballot.

So this morning I sit here watching these inspiring stories about Martin Luther King Jr  and wonder “what do I need to do to inspire people to vote?”

I don’t know the answer to this question. But I know that I need to keep looking for the answer.

What is your suggestion?

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