With the 2016 local and presidential elections fast approaching, some Oakland groups are focusing heavily on Latino voter registration and education because the results will directly affect their community.
According to the Public Policy Institute of California, Latinos represent 34 percent of the state’s adult population, but account for only 18 percent of those most likely to vote. This year, the recently established Latino Task Force (LTF) aims to raise the low voter turnout through the use of forums, Get Out the Vote campaigns and other initiatives in Oakland.
“Our vote is our voice,” said task force member George Larma. “It’s a way to make a difference.”
The task force advocates for equity in the city of Oakland. They partner with other organizations to create and implement programs that help the Latino community members deal with issues in legal, health, education, and other areas. These issues arise when Latinos are treated unequally in anything ranging from rent increases without warning to being under represented in schools or the workplace. Members also listen to the concerns of fellow residents, which are then presented to the city government for reform.
“The meetings are like an open forum and they want to get feedback and know what we think,” said Annette Oropeza, a voter who has attended some of the task force’s meetings and forums. “Then they can bring that to the city government to let them know where the Latinos stand on the issues.”
Some local measures of particular concern to the task force are Measures HH, LL, JJ. Measure HH is a soda tax that, if passed, would put a one cent per ounce tax on sugary drinks. Larma says that their community suffers from high rates of diabetes and weight-related problems. “We are the biggest casualty of the sugar industry,” he said.
Measure LL would establish a Community Police Review Agency to oversee law enforcement and investigate police misconduct. And Measure JJ would require landlords to get approval before raising rents more than the annual cost-of-living adjustment allowed by the city.
“The majority of Latinos’ residences are renters,” member Mariano Contreras said. “So we’re being displaced because we can’t afford to pay the type of rent that is being asked of renters.”
Leading up to the election, task force members have not only been encouraging people to vote, but educating them about the ballot measures and candidates. In September, they held a forum, which allowed Fruitvale citizens to see debates between candidates running for Superior Court Judge, city council and schoolboard from Districts 1, 3, 5 and 7.
The forum also brought representatives from both supporting and opposing sides of each ballot initiative. Their debates focused on city measures, HH, LL, and JJ primarily, which will directly affect Oakland and the Latino community.
Every person age 13 and older in attendance received a ballot, and chose who they would endorse. The winners of the informal balloting process received endorsements from the Latino Task Force.
By the end of the night, the group had voted to endorse the yes campaigns on Measure LL and Measure HH. They also chose Scott Jackson for Superior Court Judge, incumbents Dan Kalb for city council and Jody London for school board in District 1, incumbents Lynette Gibson McElhaney for city council and Jumoke Hinton Hodge for school board in District 3 and incumbents Noel Gallo for city council and Roseanne Torres for school board in District 5.
“We want the community folks to feel empowered,” Contreras said. “Even before they get out to vote, they can endorse somebody.”
The Latino Task Force is currently partnering with the Unity Council and the Spanish Speaking Citizens’ Foundation on the Get Out to Vote (GOTV) initiative. This initiative calls for the canvasing of voters to see if they registered to vote and if they plan on voting. On election day, members with the initiative call everyone on their list to make sure they voted.
According to CityLab,—a database that collects demographic data on cities in the Bay Area—Hispanic people make up 25 percent of Oakland’s population. Monique Rivera, a task force member, said that getting a fraction of a couple hundred of these voters to the polls can make a difference in the election, when it comes to down ticket races like for the schoolboard and local ballot measures. “Your vote matters so much on the local level,” she said.
The Latino Task Force members will continue to help other organizations with the Get Out the Vote initiative until the polls close on election day. Then, like everyone else, they’ll wait for the results.