In the early months of 2022, Masavi Perea counted the days until he could register to vote. Being able to cast a ballot was a major reason why the Mexico native applied for U.S. citizenship as soon as he became eligible.
“I feel that my vote in a way honors those in my community who cannot vote in what is a really important election here in Arizona,” he says.
Political pundits expect Latino voters like Perea to exert their growing influence in the Nov. 8 midterm election in Arizona, one of several swing states where Republican candidates continue to push against the legitimacy of President Biden’s election win in high-stake races for U.S. senator, governor, secretary of state, and attorney general. Just days before voting begins on Oct. 12, Arizona’s political environment is fraught with false narratives that voter-advocacy groups are working to counter as they rally members of the nation’s fastest-growing voting bloc.
“There has been an uptick in disinformation ever since the 2020 election,” says Araceli Villezcas of One Arizona, a coalition of 28 grassroots organizations across the state. “But we know that there is no proven claim of actual fraud in the election system. We bring it back to the facts and encourage people to exercise their right to vote, because what comes from elections is something that impacts everyone in their day-to-day life.”
In Arizona, Latinos make up one-third of Arizona’s 7.3 million residents and about one-quarter of the state’s 4.1 million registered voters. As the midterm election approaches, grassroots organizers are stepping up outreach to Latinos, including the high number of young people reaching voting age and naturalized citizens. About 1 million Latinos across the country turn 18 every year, according to the UnidosUS, the nation’s largest Latino advocacy group. Meanwhile, 5.19 million immigrants gained their citizenship, and with it the right to vote, between 2016 and 2020, according to a July report from several voter advocacy, labor, and immigration groups. In Arizona, nearly 64,000 people became citizens in that time frame.
The Arizona GOP candidates spreading false claims of voter fraud all were endorsed by former President Trump. They include former TV news anchor Kari Lake running for governor, venture capitalist Blake Masters for the Senate, state Rep. Mark Finchem for secretary of state, and former prosecutor Abraham Hamadeh for attorney general. And while an election audit affirmed the 2020 election results in Arizona, some say the current clamor of GOP candidates could confuse some voters and erode trust in the election system. Misinformation about new voting restrictions in Arizona and 17 other states is targeted at exploiting the public’s information gap and could make matters worse.
New voters and newly naturalized citizens are most likely to be Latino, and because they lack familiarity with the U.S. election system, they may be especially affected by disinformation and misinformation, according to a report published in August by the Brennan Center for Justice. “At the same time, election misinformation and disinformation targeting Spanish-speaking and Latino communities is particularly virulent,” the report reads. “These new voters may face greater difficulties in recognizing misinformation resulting from information gaps around recent voting law changes.”
Perea, 47, says the current political climate in his adopted state is worrisome. Although he wasn’t eligible to vote in the 2020 election, he followed politics closely and saw that Trump’s refusal to accept his narrow loss to Biden in Arizona gave license to others, including GOP candidates, to mimic his rhetoric. “It resulted in a very unpleasant situation that misinformed a lot of people,” he says. Politicians, many Republicans, boosted Trump’s claims of election fraud because “they knew that if they talked that way, there were going to be people who would support them.”
Unfortunately, he says, Republican candidates, such as gubernatorial candidate Lake, are taking a page from Trump’s political playbook, which means grassroots groups are having to redouble efforts to educate potential voters and refer them to trusted sources of election information. Perea helps to do just that as organizing director for Chispa Arizona, which works to grow the political clout of Latinos around climate change. He may be a newly registered voter, but the Phoenix resident became involved in community activism long before he obtained legal status. Perea first came to Arizona from the Mexican state of Chihuahua in the 1990s. He was undocumented for years, until he eventually became eligible for permanent residency and, later, citizenship.
Perea finds it disheartening that through his work he encounters Latinos who think their vote doesn’t matter. “Many new voters are to some extent tired of both parties, and a concern in this election is that they don’t believe their vote will make a difference.”
Perea points to the 2020 general election as a pivotal moment that proves the difference each vote can make: Biden won Arizona by just 10,457 votes. Latinos were key in sending Biden to the White House, helping to flip a state that long had favored Republican presidential candidates. Until Bill Clinton was elected in 1996, Arizonans had not voted for a Democrat for president since Harry S. Truman in 1948.
“We’re going to have to keep fighting to make our votes count,” Perea says. “We have to reach out to our young people who are turning 18, and to people who don’t believe in politics. We have to have conversations with them, we have to educate them, and we have to encourage them to vote.”
Perea and other grassroots organizers may be in a better position now to reach out to potential voters, having grown in numbers and strengthened coalitions to combat the anti-immigrant sentiment that permeated Arizona politics after the state adopted SB 1070 in 2010. That law gave local and state police more power to enforce immigration laws and made it a crime to hire, transport, and shelter people without legal status. Although the Supreme Court struck down most of the measure’s provisions, police still can demand proof of legal status during investigations if they suspect someone is undocumented.
With the Oct. 11 voter-registration deadline approaching, grassroots groups were out in force on National Voter Registration Day, Sept. 20. In the Phoenix area, One Arizona’s Villezcas says organizers visited 17 high schools to register students old enough to vote in the election. “They had events at all the schools, so some of the schools had performances, music, and then speakers as well,” she says. “And then students that are 18 or are going to be 18 by the election were invited to come and register to vote.”
The goal is to educate young people on how the election system works, Villezcas says. “It’s all about letting them know their right when it comes to voting, how they can cast a vote, whether that’s through mail, early, or in person, it’s up to them. But we just provide that information so that they can go on. And our hope is that they become lifelong voters.”
Music and cultural festivals are another venue that Arizona One uses to attract and inspire the next generation of Latino voters and other young people of color. “The reason we do that is because we’ve seen that in the history of our state, these voters have been really underrepresented,” Villezcas says. “So our mission is to reach out to these voters that the traditional parties don’t generally or have not historically reached. And our goal in doing that is to really encourage these people to make their voices heard so that the issues that impact them, they can have a say on.”
Since March, One Arizona has registered about 120,000 new young voters and, after the voter-registration deadline, organizers will switch gears and start knocking on doors, holding face-to-face conversations, and maximizing social media messaging. “We run digital ads, we work with influencers and content creators, and then, in that way, we’re covering all our bases to make sure we reach as many people as possible,” Villezcas says.
Maico Olivares, the deputy field director for Central Arizonans for a Sustainable Economy, or CASE, says it’s of vital importance for organizers to visit underserved communities, where people may be more worried about how to pay the rent or afford groceries than they are about voting in the next election. “We’re going to start creating a presence in those communities where people start to see voting as a normal thing,” he says.
And even though politicians often treat Latinos as a monolith caring primarily about immigration, that is far from true. “That’s kind of a misconception that Latinos have very unique interests versus, say, Anglos; they’re pretty much the same,” says Lisa Magaña, a political scientist at Arizona State University. “It used to be immigration was maybe that significant difference, but that is actually not the issue anymore.”
The economy, jobs, and public safety, along with education and health care, were top of mind among Latinos this summer in a survey commissioned by UnidosUS and Mi Familia Vota, a national voting advocacy group. The findings are consistent with what Olivares and other Arizona organizers hear when they talk with potential voters.
Whatever their reasons, Olivares is optimistic that enough Latino voters will flex their collective political muscle influence in November. “Given the sheer outcome of the previous general election, I think that momentum is going to continue into the midterm election, because Trump is still very much present in the candidates that he is putting up.”
Lourdes Medrano is an independent journalist in southern Arizona, where she writes about immigration, underserved communities, the environment and other matters of importance in both the U.S. and neighboring Mexico. A 2020-21 Knight Science Journalism fellow at MIT, she has written for various publications, including the Washington Post, Undark Magazine, The Atlantic and Audubon Magazine. She speaks English and Spanish. Reach her via Twitter direct message or LinkedIn.