By Armida Lopez , Danny Ortega , | Fox News article available here
We stand at a critical moment for the Latino community and our country. As we watch the tumult of the 2016 election season unfold, we’ve seen the Republican Party candidates demonize us in an effort to rally their base and the Democratic Party offer the same recycled platitudes from election years past. We are the fastest growing voting bloc in the country but we have yet to find our political voice. A recent poll of 1,500 Latinos across the state of Arizona found that 90 percent wanted new strategies and new ways for empowerment.
"Now, more than ever, it is time to embrace making a change when Latinos are rising in numbers as a community and upping our voter registrations but our voter participation is going down. We need to create a culture of voting and it starts in the primaries and having a choice for the people." - — D. Ortega and A. Lopez
At a time when the entire country is demanding bold reforms in our political system, it is long past time for Latinos to lead. We can start by listening to what our young people are telling us. Of the record 27.3 million eligible Latino voters projected for 2016, 44 percent are millennials. Fifty-six percent of Latino millennials today are identifying as politically independent and more and more Latino voters of all ages are joining them — 50 percent of the Latino community today is politically independent.
We rightly speak out against voter suppression tactics aimed at Latinos that make voting inconvenient or confusing, or identification requirements that create unnecessary hurdles in the name of preventing fabricated concerns over voter fraud. But these barriers, while serious, pale compared to the impact closed, partisan primaries are having on Latino political participation.
A dozen states have completely closed primaries, prohibiting any American who has refused to align with a political party the right to vote in what is often the most critical and competitive round of elections. Twenty-four other states, including our home state of Arizona, make it difficult for independents to participate or force them to temporarily join a party for the “privilege” of voting. Consider the devastating impact on future voting by Latinos if we allow this to continue.
Primaries in the state of Arizona, and many other states that have closed primaries, are the biggest voter suppression that there is in this country because people are not allowed to vote for whom they want. People are forced to vote for who the parties want them to vote for and it is time we change that. It is our belief that unless we vote in primaries, we do not get invested in the process. We’ve heard people say all too often, “why vote in general elections, if the people that won in the primaries are going to win anyway” and they are right! 90 percent of all candidates who win in primaries are already elected. How can we possibly argue that more Latinos need to get out to vote when they know the system is rigged and the results pre-determined for them?
In Latino districts, we have some of the finest politicians that we can elect. But the reality remains that after they win in the primaries, our politicians stop working. They no longer have to convince people to get out to vote in the general elections. And when they don’t have to make any contacts with their constituents because they have already won, Latinos don’t get out to vote. They have no incentive to do so.
In the state of Arizona, Latinos represent 21 percent of the registered voters but only 14 percent of the turnout. It’s an all too common scenario across the country. It’s time that we tell our youth that we recognize our value, not only culturally but politically, and say that it’s time for change because the status quo is not right. Eighty-one percent of Latinos surveyed stated they would be more likely to vote if they had the opportunity to make the primaries open and nonpartisan. We need to listen to what our brothers and sisters are telling us.
Now, more than ever, it is time to embrace making a change when Latinos are rising in numbers as a community and upping our voter registrations but our voter participation is going down. We need to create a culture of voting and it starts in the primaries and having a choice for the people.
It is long past time for Latinos to seize our own political destiny. It’s not enough to be fed up with the partisan paralyses of our government, we must demand the changes necessary to fix it and show the politicians in Washington that we CAN reform our democracy.
Armida Lopez is a millennial activist and Director of Latino Outreach for Open Primaries, a movement to support nonpartisan elections across the country.