With less than two months to go before voters head to the polls to elect our next president, our nation’s political parties, candidates and deep-pocketed donors are once again throwing around significant amounts of money to get the outcome they desire this November. Money is flowing everywhere, it seems, except toward the changes that will ensure Latino voters turn out not just for this election, but for the next one and the one after that.
NALEO Educational Fund projects that more than 13.1 million Latino voters are expected to turn out to vote this November. While this would be a record number of Latino voters for a single election, the potential for the electorate and our democracy would be even greater if we had the resources to move beyond the battleground states to mobilize the 27.3 million Latinos who are eligible to vote in 2016.
Latinos are not a three-state electorate limited to the swing states of Nevada, Colorado and Florida. We are a 50-state community that continues to grow and expand every year, and it is time that investment in voter mobilization efforts finally reflected this fact.
Thinking in the short term is not unique to this year. What we are seeing today is what we have witnessed in the past four presidential elections: last-minute investments from partisan funders who are focused on swaying the outcome of a single election through battleground-state investments, rather than an effort to build a long-term engagement infrastructure that would promote greater participation from Latino voters and other diverse communities for the foreseeable future.
The problem with the current strategy is that we keep repeating a political history that leaves Latinos on the outside looking in. The same mistakes that led to Latino voters either being ignored in previous elections — especially in states like Texas and California, where nearly half the Latino population and electorate reside — or feeling disillusioned when the many grandiose promises made by political candidates in their battleground states never come to fruition are being made once again.
For far too long, Latino voters have been treated as an afterthought in our political system, a segment of the electorate that is merely a means to an end. Once the transaction is over and the votes are secured in crucial states, the funders, candidates and parties go away, and we are left with inaction on the issues that matter most to our community. These efforts leave behind no infrastructure or long-term political power that would allow Latino voters to hold accountable the very same elected officials they have been manipulated to elect.
Changing this dynamic is no small feat. It will take a sincere investment from the funding community and from campaigns if we want Latinos to truly engage as active and consistent voters. It is only through meaningful engagement and maximum participation that we can have a democracy that is truly responsive and accountable to the Latino electorate.
Candidates come and go, as do their promises, but the number of Latinos who can vote will grow with every election. Latinos are expected to account for 40 percent of the growth in the eligible electorate through 2030, at which time 40 million Hispanics will be eligible to vote.
If we do not make investments now in a robust civic engagement effort that looks beyond 2016, we should not be surprised when less than half of all Americans and eligible Latino voters cast ballots in this country for the foreseeable future. To have systemic change, strong, long-term investment must be made in the Latino community that goes beyond engaging individuals to vote in one election in only a handful of states.
Latinos are wising up and getting tired of being used as a political pawn by partisan funders and campaigns in the presidential chess game every four years. The dirty little secret of our democracy is out, and pennies and scraps in election years simply will not do it anymore for the nation’s second-largest population group. It is time for funders and campaigns to look beyond battleground states in Election 2016 and finally make the investments needed to give Latinos access to the democracy our nation so richly deserves.