Voter turnout in San Jose’s East Side falls behind West Valley
A colorful "vote" sign is displayed at the vote center at the Mexican Heritage Plaza in East San Jose. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Education trustee Teresa Castellanos spent weeks going door to door to speak with East Side voters before the Nov. 3 election. To her dismay, many of them told her no one has ever knocked on their door on the campaign trail.

“That’s when I realized that there’s a whole electorate that’s not being targeted and not being encouraged,” said Castellanos, who is slated to win re-election to the San Jose Unified School District Board.

And the numbers show it.

A mere 51% of voters had submitted their ballots by 8 p.m. Nov. 2 in Assembly District 27, the heart of San Jose’s East Side, while 61% of ballots were submitted in the city’s more affluent West Valley.

The small turnout — amidst a record-breaking early voting spree for Santa Clara County —  gave Castellanos and other advocates cause for concern, especially since San Jose’s East Side is primarily made up of Latino residents and working-class families.

“It’s key that we target everyone so that everyone feels that they matter. And so that they feel their vote matters. Especially when life is hard.” Castellanos has been working with Latinos In Action 2020, a group dedicated to bolstering Latino involvement in politics.

The gap between East and West San Jose voting persisted. Data updated Nov. 4 by the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters shows 67% of AD 27 ballots were cast by mail or in-person voting in comparison to 70% in West Valley.

While the numbers have yet to be updated from in-person voting, the question surrounding ballot-casting in AD 27 remains: What happens if East Side residents don’t vote and why aren’t they voting early?

“If you don’t come out and vote, you don’t get the attention,” said lifelong East Side resident Andres Quintero, who serves on the Alum Rock school board.

Quintero grew up in the East Side and said the area encompasses many low-income families.

Working long hours, income disparities and needing to relocate due to rising rent make it more difficult for residents to vote, Quintero said. He said these factors likely account for the dismal early voter turnout.

“It’s the unfortunate reality that your socioeconomic status has a direct correlation between an individual’s ability to engage in the political process,” Quintero said.

West Valley households have a median annual income of $104,000 while AD 27 residents have a median annual income of $75,000, according to Census data.

Quintero said he doesn’t expect East San Jose voter turnout to compare to West Side turnout because, historically, the East Side has always had a lower voting rate.

Maritza Maldonado, executive director of Amigos de Guadalupe, said she was “beyond shocked” by the early low turnout rate, given how much her team tried to encourage Latino residents in East San Jose to vote.

“We are on Facebook and Instagram trying to get the Latino vote out because it’s going to make all the difference in local politics,” Maldonado said Nov. 3.

According to Census data, Latinos comprise an estimated 44.7% of the East Side district while Asians comprise the second majority at 34% of the population.

Data from the Public Mapping Project shows 67,098 Latinos who are of voting age in AD 27 — almost a quarter of the district’s voting population.

But Latinos are less likely to vote statewide, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. Forty-seven percent of Latinos are likely to vote compared to 54% of Asian Americans, 54% Blacks and 65% of non-Hispanic whites.

The problem may also lie in semantics. Oftentimes, Latino voters are lumped together as a single voice when the word “Latino” encomapasses a diverse range of ethnic cultural groups and even more diverse political opinions.

Thirty-seven percent of Latino likely voters in California identify themselves as politically liberal, while 32% identify as moderate and 31% identify as conservative, according to the PPIC.

Castellanos said campaigns in San Jose need to broaden their reach to encourage minorities to vote.

“Traditional campaigns focus on the most frequent voters because there’s limited resources and time,” said Castellanos. “But we need to be able to focus on everyone and we need to focus on new voters. We need to focus on immigrant voters, we need to focus on voters of color, we need to focus on working class voters.”

Maldonado and Quintero said having to work long hours is likely the primary reason Latinos struggled to vote.

Lines snaked around the vote center at the Mexican Heritage Plaza in East San Jose before polls were set to close. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

As the end of the day neared Nov. 3, lines began to snake around a vote center at the Mexican Heritage Plaza in East San Jose.

Many voters waited up to an hour to fill in their ballots.

The turnout was an unexpected triumph after voting got off to a rocky start in East San Jose. Before 8 a.m., cardboard “vote” signs were torn down at the polling place. Printers ran out of ink, and even more disturbingly, the early voting stats were low.

But for some East San Jose residents, such as James Avalos, the hourlong wait to vote was a small price to pay to make his voice heard. Avalos, 62, an operation supervisor for a security company, said he hasn’t missed a presidential election since before George H.W. Bush’s election in 1988.

“We really have to try to find something that’s going to pull us together,” he said, waiting at the back of the line. “I don’t know if Biden’s the answer, but I know Trump is not the answer.”

Lourdis Esparza, 56, an East San Jose resident, brought her granddaughter to vote to share the experience. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Lourdis Esparza, 56, a retired social services worker who lives in East San Jose, brought her granddaughter to the vote center to share in a sense of community. Most of her neighbors can’t make it to polls until after work, she said.

Esparza said voting ensures resources are fairly allocated to East San Jose.

“Everything in my community needs my vote,” she said, “that’s where it counts.”

Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.

Reporter Lorraine Gabbert contributed to this report.

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