Registering Latino voters in Milwaukee for 2024, and maybe for decades
Voter registration efforts during this National Voter Registration Month have included outreach to the Latino community on Milwaukee's south side. The efforts could be important for next year's elections, and beyond.
At La Plazita Parklet, located at Forest Home Avenue and South 16th Street, a young Latina mother, who gave her name as Jasmine, held her kids and approached a registration table. Jasmine said she was signing up to vote next year because she wants someone good in office.
"You know, the one that promotes the best choices that grab your attention, and you think that's a better deal than the other candidate, you know?" Jasmine told WUWM.
A coalition of groups organized the voter registration event. Esperanza Gutierrez is with the Latina League of Women Voters. She said she wants to help the fast growing local population.
"Especially with the newcomers and children — trying to instill the importance of the vote, that they have the most powerful tool as a citizen and they should practice it. Even though they're young, they can learn about it and help their parents or neighbors learn about who's running and who's speaking for them," Gutierrez said.
Several 17- and 18-year-old students from Milwaukee high school Cristo Rey Jesuit came to register to vote.
Bryan Ramirez said he believes voting means the chance for change.
"It's just always been like, since I've been growing up, it's been a way to change like the environment around me and like how things are in my environment," Ramirez said.
Alejandrina Partida said her government teacher has been telling students about the voting process. She said when she casts her first ballot next year, it will be partly a vote for community safety.
"Especially me that has grown in such a dangerous place in the community. You constantly hear gunshots and things like that. Knowing that I'm able to vote and make changes makes me encouraged to take those things and make a difference," Partida said.
There can be skepticism among young — or older — voters from any group that their vote makes a difference. But another registration organizer, Eloisa Gomez of the League of Women Voters of Milwaukee County and the Latinx Voter Outreach Team, said the candidates do pay attention.
"You know, I once worked for a politician, right? And they know who votes and who doesn't. So, if we think politicians don't know who votes and who doesn't vote in their community, they'd be sadly mistaken. You call, you need some changes? Yes, they'll help. But they also know who in their district votes and who doesn't," Gomez said.
Gomez served in the administration of Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist.
She said look for more voter registration efforts over the next year, especially bilingual ones.
Marquette University Law School Poll Director Charles Franklin said voter registration in the Latino community has sometimes struggled with newer immigrants being hesitant to take part in the voting process or having less organization around the civil rights movement than Black people have had for 60 years.
As of 2020, Latinos made up 3% of Wisconsin voters, but were 6% of the state's voting age population.
So, Franklin sees a tremendous opportunity to sign up Latino voters.
"There's an untapped reservoir of Hispanic and Latino citizens who could register and could participate, if they see a reason to do that. If they are convinced that their vote counts and is important in elections," Franklin told WUWM during a Zoom interview.
Franklin said the major political parties in a national battleground state like Wisconsin know to pay attention, with Democrats seeking to maintain longtime majorities with Latinos and Republicans hoping to improve on some recent gains.
Franklin also said an effort to register younger voters now could pay off for decades.
"There's an enormous amount of data showing that if you vote in the first election you're eligible to vote, your lifetime turnout goes up," Franklin said.
And maybe that's how the 2064 elections in Milwaukee will be decided, as well as 2024.