WASHINGTON — Jenny Martinez, 21, was born in El Salvador and became a U.S citizen after years of waiting and filling out paperwork.
She is now part of a growing segment in Minnesota’s population, young Latinos who register to vote in greater numbers than their parents. These new voters may make a difference in certain races and will be eligible to vote in November’s midterm elections.
Martinez, who resides in Apple Valley, said that this will be her first vote. “I feel that it would be beneficial for the Latino community to hear my voice.”
Minnesota is well-known for its high voter turnout and large voter registration, but the enthusiasm to vote has been absent in Minnesota’s Latino community.
According to the Minnesota Secretary-of-State’s office, there were approximately 5.7 million people living in Minnesota as of August 18, according to their voter registration numbers.
According to COPAL, there are approximately 65,000 registered Latino voters in Minnesota. This is a state where Hispanics make up about 5.7% of the total population or around 345,000 people according to the U.S Census.
Some Latinos cannot vote because they’re not citizens. Others are from corrupt countries and are turned off politics.
Low Latino voter turnout does not discourage advocates such as Ryan Perez (COPAL’s political campaign manager). As more young Latinos register to vote, they see an increase in political power. COPAL, like other state and national Latino organizations has a get out-the-vote-drive and a countdown clock that ticks down to the Nov. 8, election.
Perez stated that while older Latinos might or may not vote in elections, the younger generation learns English and Spanish and is shaped by different experiences.
Minnesota’s Latino population consists mainly of Mexican Americans and Mexican Immigrants. It also includes Puerto Ricans like Perez, Cubans, and South and Central Americans.
Different Latino communities may have different concerns. Individuals also make political decisions based upon personal motives. Martinez, who immigrated from Salvador with her mother, and older brother, to Minnesota when she was four years old. She said that her top priorities are easing work permit requirements for Salvadorans and strengthening worker rights in agriculture.
Perez stated that Minnesota’s Latinos are motivated to vote because of national issues, including jobs, inflation, and access to health care. However, Perez also said that the state’s restriction that only citizens can have drivers’ licenses means that they are not allowed to vote. Perez stated that while many Minnesota’s Latinos can get a driver’s licence because they are legal residents or citizens, there are still family members and friends who cannot.
This was not always true. Minnesota’s immigrants were allowed to get drivers’ licenses regardless of their status until 2003 when the law was amended to restrict those licenses to citizens or legal residents. Although the Minnesota state House passed the measure, the GOP-controlled Senate rejected it.
Latino voters historically voted for Democratic candidates more than Republicans. There are exceptions. In a 2020 Pew Research survey, 58% of Cuban voters indicated that they favored the Republican Party or were inclined toward it. 38% stated they leaned Democratic or identified with the Democratic Party.
An New York Times-Siena College survey earlier in the month found that Democrats still hold a majority of Latino voters. This was due to a combination of Latino women and the belief Democrats are the party for the working class while Republicans are more likely to be the party of elite.
According to the poll, Hispanic voters are more likely than others to support Democrats on immigration, gun policy and climate. The majority of Latino voters polled said 56 % would vote for Democrats in the fall, as opposed to 32 % for Republicans.
The economy was a concern for Latinos polled at Siena College and by the New York Times. However, 61% of respondents believed that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
FiveThirtyEight also found that many Latino voters are not strong supporters of either the Democratic nor Republican parties. This is due to the fact that many are “persuadables,” who are open to both Republican or Democratic messaging.
Another statistic is from the America’s Society/Council of the Americas. These elections are expected to involve approximately 11.6 million Latinos, which represents a 71% increase since the 2014 midterms.
Potential for impact
Minnesota’s Latino population is concentrated in the Twin Cities. However, their numbers are increasing in southern and southeastern Minnesota.
Rep. Ilhanomar, D-5 the represents the largest number of Latinos (about 72,000), according to Census data compiled by Dave’s Redistricting Atlas. Rep. Brad Finstad R-1 the has 51,000 Latinos in his district, with many of them in Austin, Rochester, and Worthington.
There are Latinos in every one of Minnesota’s eight congressional district. COPAL’s Perez stated that they could make an impact in both local and statewide races, where there is a slim margin of victory.
Perez stated that Latino votes could make a difference in the congressional races.
He stated that CD (Congressional District 1) 1 has the potential to have an impact.
Perez estimates there are about 9,000 more registered Latino voters within the 1 t Congress District, after lines were redrawn in accordance with the 2020 census count.
Perez pointed out Finstad won last month a special election to fill the seat of former Rep. Jim Hagedorn by approximately 4,500 votes, and Hagedorn won it in 2018 by around 2,500 votes.
It will be a while before Minnesota’s Latino voters have even a small fraction of the political power that they enjoy in other states like California, Texas, and Florida.