Woman (Buu Thai) standing in front of foliage and building
Buu Thai, president of the Vietnamese American Democratic Club of Silicon Valley, said she expects a larger voter turnout for the March 5 primary elections in the Vietnamese community. Photo by B. Sakura Cannestra.

Voter turnout for California’s primary election is expected to be low statewide. But officials and advocates remain hopeful about Santa Clara County, as they make their final push to increase voter participation in marginalized communities.

The county Registrar of Voters is expecting 45% to 55% of the estimated 81.4% of registered county voters to cast their ballots in the March 5 primaries, which is a little lower than normal, according to spokesperson Michael Borja. The county has already received ballots from roughly 8.45% of voters, or approximately 88,954 mail-in ballots, as of Feb. 26 and will be opening more than 100 voting centers this weekend. The ballot includes federal, state and local races, as well as statewide measure Prop. 1 to build mental health treatment facilities and housing for the homeless.

To increase votership, advocates are making their final pleas to residents in marginalized communities to cast their ballot.

In the county, the Latino community has faced historically low voter turnout, with about 27% voting in the 2022 midterm elections, the lowest turnout of any demographic. Roughly 24.7% of county residents identify as Hispanic or Latino, according to 2023 U.S. Census data.

Elizabeth Marquez Bernardino, community organizer for East San Jose-based school district Alpha Public Schools, said growing up as a first-generation Mexican-American, she watched her mom not be involved in the community. She said as someone who has just recently become civically engaged, she makes it a priority to sit down with families in the district and inform them on how to get involved and educate themselves on local politics.

“It’s really important to know what they’re voting for because at the end of the day, it impacts us,” she told San José Spotlight.

Another critical group in the county is the Vietnamese community. Roughly 41.4% of residents identify as Asian, according to 2023 U.S. Census data, and 33% of Asian voters participated in the 2022 midterm elections.

Buu Thai, president of the newly chartered Vietnamese American Democratic Club of Silicon Valley, said she expects a large voter turnout rate among Vietnamese residents, with races such as the county Board of Supervisors District 2 race, which could elect a Vietnamese American to the board for the first time.

“Having somebody that looks like you for the first time, sitting at the highest position in the board of supervisors race makes a difference,” Thai told San José Spotlight.

Working Partnerships USA, a San Jose-based think tank advocating for labor unions and working-class families, has been working to increase civic engagement. Executive Director Maria Noel Fernandez said the organization has been canvassing and phone-banking to remind people their voices matter just as much in the primary election as in the November general election.

“While it may feel challenging, and it may feel like it doesn’t really matter, what we know for sure is that our voice in the primary really determines so much of our future as members of this community,” she told San José Spotlight.

The registrar of voters has also been making pushes to increase civic engagement leading up to the primaries, including advertisements promoting voting information. Polls close at 8 p.m. on March 5 and mail-in ballots must be postmarked by March 5 and received by the registrar by March 12.

Marquez Bernardino said voting matters for communities such as hers, when elected leaders can increase representation at the local level.

“When somebody is representing us, who looks like us, who came from the same background as us, who’s gone through things that we have, then they’re able to really push policies that help us and benefit us,” she said.

Contact Annalise Freimarck at [email protected] or follow @annalise_ellen on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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