Beyond the Ballot: Latino Political Participation in Washington State

Alice Minor and Ben Serrurier

We investigated the political participation of Latinos in five Washington State locales: the Tri-Cities, Yakima, Walla Walla, Seattle, and Vancouver.  Specifically, we identified and explored the main factors that either discourage or facilitate political participation among Washington’s Latinos, and what policies, laws, and grassroots actions can be effectuated to encourage higher levels of Latino political participation.  We separated those factors into four categories:

  • The Legal Structures Related to Ballot Access
  • Access to Political Information
  • Interactions Within Latino Communities
  • Interactions Between Latino Communities and Government

Methods:  We interviewed Latino citizens with a wide range of voting and political participation experiences as well as local, Latino political leaders.  All citizen interviewees had voted in at least one election but some voted for the first time in the 2008 Presidential Election whereas others have been active in local politics for thirty years.  We organized our secondary research into the four broad categories of factors that we identified.

Findings:

  • The Language provisions of the Voting Rights Act greatly increase political access
  • Latino voters in counties that are not required to provide the ballot in Spanish struggle to overcome this hurdle to political access
  • The youngest generation of Latinos in Washington State influence politics both by facilitating voting for their elders and campaigning for better political access
  • Grass-roots political outreach has proven effective in Latino communities
  • The newly instated vote by mail system has a tangible and often negative impact on Latino voters

Recommendations:  The following is a sample of our 12 recommendations:

  • Change the triggering formula for Language assistance coverage: the triggering formula is what determines which counties must provide bilingual elections materials. This formula should be changed to include citizen minors, legal residents, and illegal residents integral to our society and economy
  • Scholarly research on two topics: 1) the Effectiveness of the Voting Rights Act, and 2) the impact of the vote by mail system on Latino voters
  • Promote local, grassroots Latino political organizations:  Government outreach will be most effective if accompanied by locally run Latino organizations

Community Partners: Joaquin Avila and Naomi Strand from the Seattle University Law School and The National Voting Rights Advocacy Initiative.

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