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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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The BattalionMay 4, 2024

Latino voting could transform Texas

Photo by Meredith Seaver

Moderator Antonio Arellano shared his personal story of attending college and being the first DACA recipient to sign a contract with ABC-13 News station in Houston.

Despite their growing population in Texas, Latino voters have consistently been an elusive demographic for political parties.
Each election cycle brings renewed speculation about the political fortunes that could be afforded by Latino voting, and with the next presidential election ostensibly already underway, 2020 will be no different.
In Texas, Latinos make up about 39 percent of the total population — 36 percent of the adult population — and are projected to outnumber non-Hispanic whites just in time for the 2020 election, becoming the largest ethnic group in the state by 2042, according to the Texas Office of the State Demographer.
To date, about 10 percent of Texas mayors and county judges are Hispanic and 13 percent of county commissioners, based on an analysis by the Austin American-Statesman. In the Texas State Legislature, 23 percent of legislators are Hispanic.
“I believe that Latinos and the youth vote are key in our next elections,” associate professor of history Sonia Hernández said. “We saw an increase in Latino voter turnout in this last Texas Senate election. While there was Latino support for Ted Cruz, an overwhelming majority of Latinos voted for Rep. Beto O’Rourke — which gave Cruz quite a scare. In a majority Republican state like Texas, the gap between these two candidates should have been huge.”
These demographics have not yet translated into seismic political power, with Hispanic voters making up only 21 percent of the 2016 Texas electorate, according to the Center for American Progress.
In hopes of addressing this gap, the civic engagement non-profit Jolt Action is focused on increasing the leadership of young Latinos in Texas. As part of their voter turnout efforts, Jolt Action brought their “Latino is Powerful Campus Tour” to Texas A&M on April 9.
“We work with a lot of students and young people, in particular women, through training and leadership development,” Jolt Action organizing director Tess Ortega said. “We want them to take these lessons and take them back into their communities.”
Several formerly Republican-leaning areas of Texas are shifting politically due to emerging Latino communities in those areas. But Jolt Action communications director Antonio Arellano faulted both major political parties for not putting in sufficient effort to engage Hispanic voters.
As of 2018, 25 percent of Hispanic adults in Texas either self-identify as Republicans or lean Republican, while 44 percent either identifying or leaning Democratic. Independents make up the second largest group among these voters at 31 percent, according to Pew Research.
“The future is Latino,” Arellano said. “And frankly, both parties have done a terrible job at reaching out to the Latinx community. … We demand to be treated with respect and dignity that we deserve.”
In the past, Hispanics have voted at least somewhat Democratic. Despite O’Rourke’s unusually close 2018 finish against Cruz in reliably-Republican Texas, the strength of O’Rourke’s support was buoyed almost exclusively by a surge in support from the parts of the state dominated by non-Hispanic white voters — not its expanding Latino communities in South and West Texas.
Arellano said this trend reflects a larger criticism among Latino political organizers. Despite the tendency of Hispanic voters to vote for Democrats, Arellano said the party has repeatedly failed to take advantage of the demographic shifts taking place in areas like Texas.
Looking to the future, the controversy surrounding the immigration policies of the Trump administration have prompted predictions among pundits of a possible surge in Latino voter turnout in protest to these actions.
“We will have to see what happens in 2020, but in these past midterms I think voters sent a loud message about the country’s trajectory,” Hernández said. “There were horrendous images of separated families at the border — including those whose legal right is to petition for asylum — and those policies were implemented by the Trump administration. People witnessed this anti-family policy and it did not sit well with many on both sides of the aisle.”
This upside was not echoed in the results of the most recent elections. The Texas Hispanic share of the electorate in 2018 did not exceed its 2016 levels and was only two percentage points higher than in 2012. With a larger pool of eligible Latino voters, this might change in 2020 since Hispanic turnout tends to be higher during presidential election years.
During the campus event, Jolt Action founder and executive director Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez said part of the group’s effort is aimed at countering efforts intended to diminish Latino political agency. Among these are structural barriers to voter participation in the state including the 2011 Texas voter ID law and various racial redistricting efforts arising after the 2010 Census, in addition to controversial changes to the 2020 Census itself.
In 2017, the Texas voter ID law was struck down by a federal judge because they ruled it discriminated against black and Hispanic voters. Another federal judge ruled in 2017 that city officials in Pasadena drew an electoral map with the intent to discriminate against Latino voters.
Furthermore, the Supreme Court also found the Republican-controlled Texas State Legislature racially gerrymandered a state legislative district in, heavily-Hispanic Fort Worth. The proposal to include a citizenship question in the next census — which some fear may lead to an undercount of the U.S. Hispanic population — is currently before the Supreme Court.
“These are all the same old tools of poll taxes and literacy tests and voter ID laws repackaged with the same purpose,” Ramírez said. “To deny us and [other] communities of color the right to determine a different direction for our country. At Jolt, we say, ‘Don’t be discouraged because our community is under attack. They’re attacking us because they know we’re powerful.’”
Further inhibiting their electoral potential, Hispanic voters tend to be less educated and have lower incomes than non-Hispanic whites — both factors are strong predictors of voting propensity.
Senior Class President Andrea Flores said her conversations with Latino former students and her own experience campaigning for student office on the slogan “Minorities are Priorities” have shown her evidence of the changing politics of the student body and the broader A&M community, perhaps reflecting wider shifts in the state.
“A&M has usually had a reputation of being a conservative school,” Flores said. “Alumni are always telling me how much more diverse and welcoming to minorities A&M has become since their time here. As A&M moves towards becoming a [Hispanic Serving Institution], I hope this progress continues into the future.”
Communication freshman Miranda Calderon and university studies freshman Vanessa Hernandez are establishing a student chapter of  Jolt Action on the A&M campus. Calderon said although there are numerous Latino organizations at A&M that deal with Latino issues and the Latino community, she felt that Jolt Action has the potential to address an unmet need in terms of voter empowerment.
“One of our main goals is to mobilize more young Latinos on campus to get registered to vote,” Calderon said. “We hope to be able to engage with students who may not normally pay that much attention to politics.”

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