UConn SSW participates in state-community partnership that registered 21,000+ new Latino voters

To achieve the profession’s social justice mission, social workers need to participate in community and political partnerships that empower indigenous community leadership and develop and support community grass root involvement. Nowhere was the success of such a partnership more evident than in the Connecticut Latino Voting Campaign “¡Tu Voto Si Cuenta!” (“Yes, Your Vote Counts!”). Latino and non-Latino individuals, youth, professionals, church leaders, voter advocacy organizations, elected and government officials, and educational institutions participated in the Voting Campaign’s two year state-wide community endeavor. Written by a social work member of the Voting Campaign, this article illustrates the value and the success of participating in a community and political partnership that contributed to Connecticut’s historic Latino 2008 voting turnout.

Dr. Antonia Cordero, Associate Professor

The Voting Campaign was a result of a 2007 state-wide summit of local and national participants designed to increase Latino civic and voter participation. As a consequence of the summit, strategic planning and partnerships were initiated with the goal of engaging a minimum of 10,000 Latino Connecticut residents in the 2008 Presidential Elections.  The voting campaign was coordinated by a Latino community activist and a Latino administrative government official. A Steering Committee was formed, comprised of Latino and non-Latino leaders, educators, and community members from across the state. The aim of the committee was to develop a decentralized voter outreach model with twelve state-wide local committees in charge of planning and conducting voter education, registration, and voter outreach.

Committee objectives included: 1) recruiting, advising and supporting local campaign coordinators in each city or town to coordinate local meetings and work with the Steering Committee, the Office of the Secretary of the State of Connecticut and the various Registrars of Voters in outreach efforts; 2) identifying, contacting, recruiting, and training local volunteers in the various target cities or communities to conduct actual voter education and registration activities and efforts under the guidance of the local committee and with the support of the Steering Committee; 3) providing statewide support and/or advice for media relations, publicity, marketing and general communication in a culturally/linguistically competent manner on behalf of the campaign; and 4) identifying and securing base funding for local and state-wide voter education, registration and outreach.

Twelve major cities in Connecticut were targeted for voter outreach: Hartford, New Haven, West Haven, Bridgeport, Waterbury, Danbury, New Britain, Meriden, New London, Windam/Willimantic, Stamford, and Norwalk. Steering subcommittees were formed (e.g. research and planning, media relations, outreach to youth, budget and financing) that met individually to study their respective areas and make recommendations to the full steering committee on all aspects of the campaign. The non-campaign mounted an aggressive media campaign (radio, print, and television) targeting the Spanish speaking market to encourage voter participation. The campaign also provided significant voter education on how to use paper ballots with the new optical scan voting technology, as well as information on voter rights, proper forms of voting identification, and door to door voter outreach on Election Day. The steering committee also enlisted local and national organizations to devise and implement mechanisms and initiatives through which various Latino demographic sub-groups would be enrolled and engaged in electoral participation.

One state-wide campaign initiative targeted to Latino youth took place on October 14, 2008 at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work hosted by the School’s Latino American Student Organization, Puerto Rican/Latino Studies Project, and Nancy A. Humphreys Institute for Political Social Work.  The event featured presentations by Valeriano Ramos and Fernando Betancourt, state coordinators of the voting campaign, on the differences between voter participation in Puerto Rico and participation by Puerto Ricans residing on the mainland in the United States. The voting campaign’s efforts to increase Latino participation were presented to inform and recruit university and community college students in attendance to join the voting campaign. This and other recruitment efforts galvanized the campaign’s volunteer youths to register new voters on college campuses and in state-wide community summer events. In addition, on Election Day, the youth participated in door to door efforts to get individuals to vote and worked as volunteers at state-wide election polls.

As a result of the campaign, the goal of registering 10,000 voters was doubled. 21,570 new Latino voters were registered. Election results reported that 53% of the state’s Latino population voted for Barack Obama, NASW’s endorsed presidential candidate. Social work values and ethics call for practitioners to promote and become active in culturally competent, social action and empowerment efforts. The success of this campaign illustrates the value and effectiveness of participating in partnerships that build culturally competent, diverse community and non-partisan political networks. Partnerships that empower and support indigenous community leadership, collaborate with key stake holders, enlist and support grass root community efforts.  “We have succeeded in the ¡Tu Voto Si Cuenta! Campaign beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. It is clear that nationally, Latinos are key swing voters in the Presidential election”, said Secretary of the State, Susan Bysiewicz.

Publication Title and Author:

A View of Community and Political Partnerships:
Empowering Connecticut Latino Voters and Community
By Antonia E. Cordero, DSW, Associate Professor UCONN SSW