Concerns About Low Voter Turnout Amongst Latinos in Washington State

A colored map of Yakima's voting districts.
La preocupación por la redistribución de los distritos en el Valle de Yakima puede verse eclipsada por la la baja participación electoral de los latinos.

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NWPB’s Johanna Bejarano reports on concerns about low voter turnout amongst Latino voters in Washington State / Runtime – 2:41

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Lawsuits over redistricting maps and reports of rejection by voters of color have brought the power of Latino voters to the forefront in the Yakima Valley. Efforts to secure their voting rights raise the question of whether this may be eclipsed by the history of low voter turnout.

The Latino vote in the Yakima Valley is seen as a turning point for this year’s elections in Washington State.

Recent debates over the Legislative District 15 map and reports on the rejection of Latino voters’ ballots suggest that this community represents a major advantage or disadvantage for either party.

However, concerns about providing Latinos with greater representation in Yakima may be overshadowed by the community’s historically low voter turnout.

Giovanni Severino, Youth Campaign manager at Latino Community Fund, a non-profit organization that supports the Latino community in the state, says that more voter participation is critical.

“Unfortunately, over the years past, we haven’t seen the voter turnout that we would hope for,” he said. “There’s been a very low amount of Latino or specifically Spanish surname voter turnout in the Yakima Valley that we hope to improve in this upcoming election.”

According to the Yakima County website, 56 percent of voters with Spanish surnames returned their ballots for the 2020 presidential elections. They voted in similar proportions in 2016 and 2012.

The 2018 legislative elections showed a 41 percent turnout of voters with Spanish surnames in Yakima County. For the Legislative District 15th, which has been at the center of controversy in recent months, that turnout was 40 percent.

In both presidential and legislative elections, Spanish surname participation is 30 percent below the turnout of people with a non-Spanish surname.

In other local elections, people with Spanish surname participation have not exceeded 13 percent.

With more conditions for choosing the candidate of their choice, different reasons prevent Hispanics from not showing up at the polls, Severino says.

“Our community doesn’t necessarily have a good relationship with the voter identity where they don’t know anyone in their family that has voted before. Learning how to vote, learning the process instead of becoming something like it’s a duty and something that we must do to improve our livelihoods, it seems more like an inconvenience”.

In addition, language barriers, misunderstanding of ballots terms and forgetting to sign ballots also affect the chances of Hispanics deciding to vote or having their votes accepted.

More than 127,000 ballots were issued in Yakima County for the 2021 General Election; at least 34,000 went to people with Spanish surnames.

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