South Bay candidates court Latinx voters, push to get them to polls
Former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julían Castro speaks at the Latino Community Foundation’s virtual Get Out the Vote rally about his support for Proposition 15. Image courtesy of Latino Community Foundation.

San Jose Unified School District Board of Trustees candidate Tomara Hall does a lot more phone banking than door knocking these days because of the pandemic, but she always has a few Spanish-fluent volunteers on stand-by.

“When it comes to running a campaign, you’re educating people,” Hall said. “So you need to offer materials in English and Spanish.”

In a school district where 33% of students are Latino or Hispanic, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, Hall and many other local candidates say they recognize the importance of greater outreach to the growing number of eligible Latino voters.

Hall identifies as Afro-Latina and said even if her campaign reaches Spanish speakers who are not eligible to vote, she hopes they would inspire a friend or family member who can.

“Maybe you can’t register but you want someone to vote in this election, and so I feel like I have more reason to convince someone,” she said.

Angél Guzman, a justice studies senior at San Jose State, said Spanish-language voting materials allow her relatives to follow along much easier as she explains the voting process.

“Ballot language is complex and complicated jargon and they do that on purpose,” Guzman said. “So having it in Spanish, at least I can explain it better to (my family).”

A Pew Research Center study found that though there was a record number of Latino and Hispanic voters who cast a ballot in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the number of eligible Latinos and Hispanics who did not vote was still greater.

While there is little sign Latino voters will turn out for the presidential election in numbers significantly higher than in 2016, the community and soon-to-be eligible bloc of voters in Santa Clara County continues to grow.

As Basil Saleh began campaigning for trustee of the Campbell Union High School District (CUHSD), he said he recognized the community of Mexican, Central and South American immigrant families make up much of his potential voter base.

“(We) have the highest population of Latino voters out of any trustee area in CUHSD,” Saleh said.

According to the district, minority enrollment is 98% of the student body, with the majority being Hispanic.

Saleh graduated from San Jose’s Branham High School in 2014 and said that as a Black American, he felt ill-represented by the district’s all-white Board of Trustees — as should Latino and Hispanic people.

Guzman shared similar misgivings about her elected representatives in the East Side Union High School District.

The Latino Community Foundation is advising Latino voters not only about candidates, but about ballot propositions as well.

“Half of the state’s K-12 public school’s population is Latino,” said Eduardo Garcia, a senior policy fellow with the foundation. “We used (virtual) events to talk about the importance of passing Proposition 15 and 16.”

Prop. 15 would change the way commercial property is taxed and Prop. 16 would repeal the state’s 24-year prohibition on race- and gender-based affirmative action.

The Latino Community Foundation, based in San Francisco, aims to increase the political power of Latino and Hispanic voters. Though the foundation cannot hold large events in-person as it usually would, dubbing these events “quinceañeras,” it recently hosted former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julían Castro for a get-out-the-vote virtual rally.

“For us that was an important virtual event because we featured young people,” Garcia said. “We believe that both of these propositions together are essential to ensuring that the next generation of Latino youth have a strong and bright future.”

Saleh said by speaking directly to the issues Latino families face disproportionately and building trust, he is hoping to increase the visibility of his campaign and, ultimately, voter turnout.

But just as important as voter turnout, he said, is voter engagement.

“It’s one thing to show up during the election and it’s another to sort of be present and be a known entity, at least to folks that are engaged in the community,” Saleh said.

Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow him @vicentejvera on Twitter.

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