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Midterms Approaching, Advocates Reach Out to UT Latino Voters

Communities United registered about 600 people to vote ahead of the 2016 election. This year the group has set a higher goal. (Erik Hersman/Flickr)
Communities United registered about 600 people to vote ahead of the 2016 election. This year the group has set a higher goal. (Erik Hersman/Flickr)
June 21, 2018

SALT LAKE CITY – Voters in Utah head to the polls Tuesday for the state's primary election. And voter advocates are working to boost participation among Utah's Hispanic population.

In 2016, just 58 percent of eligible Hispanic voters in Utah cast ballots on Election Day, according to census data. Among white voters, 64 percent participated.

During primary and midterm elections like this year's, voter turnout tends to be lower.

The West Valley City-based grassroots organization Communities United is reaching out to Latino voters to emphasize the importance of participation.

The group’s advocacy coordinator, Maria Montes, says one obstacle is perception: many immigrant families come to the U.S. from countries with historically unfair elections.

After Donald Trump's unexpected victory in 2016, she says, many people's faith in American elections was shaken, too.

"For those community members that now are here in the United States and maybe felt a little bit more encouraged about voting, the elections in 2016 made them feel out of love with the electoral cycle in the United States," she states.

Montes says another hurdle is voter education. So Communities United is reaching out to Utah's Latino population through church groups and community health programs to let people know where and when to vote, and connect them with information about issues and candidates.

Montes says her organization's goal is to register 1,000 new voters before November's midterm election.

She says she hears Utah Latinos expressing concerns about the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, public school funding, and getting local governments to better reflect the diversity of the populations they represent.

"And so, we go back to the community members and we reconnect those necessities that they share with us to voting to make sure that they understand that those things that they feel can definitely be connected to long-term systematic changes," she explains.

In Tuesday's primary, Utah voters will choose candidates for the U.S. House and Senate and state and local seats.

Utah voters can register by mail until 30 days before the Nov. 6 election, or online until 7 days before the election.

Katherine Davis-Young, Public News Service - UT