Latino Vote 2016

From citizens to voters to activists

An Arizona NCLR Affiliate is building a movement and the world is taking note

By John Marth, Senior Content Specialist

Petra Falcon keeps sticky notes on the wall above her desk as reminders of the Arizonans she’s turned into voters. That’s a lot to look back on: Falcon’s organization, Promise Arizona, has registered 50,000 new voters in Maricopa County—Arizona’s most populated county—since opening in 2010.

Promise Arizona, or PAZ, sets out to unite Latinos and immigrants in Arizona to build influence and shape their communities. The Phoenix-based nonprofit and NCLR Affiliate focuses on job growth, education, and other issues, but they’ve mostly been recognized for engaging potential voters to take action. Latinos account for 22% of Arizona’s electorate, giving the state the fourth-largest share of eligible voters in the country.

Registering as many eligible voters as possible is at the center of PAZ’s plan to engage Latinos in Maricopa County. The New Yorker profiled PAZ’s highly organized efforts in August, leading to attention from around the world. “We’ve gotten calls from Denmark, Norway, and Japan because of the New Yorker story,” Falcon says. “We’re humbled and grateful.”

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A voter for life

Encouraging voter participation has certainly been an uphill battle in the Phoenix area. Even though Maricopa County represents nearly two-thirds of the state’s voters, polling places in the county were reduced from 200 in 2012 to just 60 for the primary election earlier this year. Barriers like inconvenient polling locations don’t faze Falcon, though. “We can drive them,” she says of voters.

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“Building a relationship has always been one-on-one,” Falcon says. That includes being in consistent contact with voters in the 30 days before Election Day to make sure that each voter has everything they need to cast their ballots.

Providing that kind of reliability and a sense of camaraderie is how PAZ keeps people engaged in the cause. Citizens who register to vote with PAZ don’t just cast their ballots; PAZ builds a community around them. “We integrate them into the life of the organization,” Falcon says. They’re called to protest, attend vigils, and be involved in any other local efforts PAZ organizes.

Promise Arizona is a participant of the NCLR Latino Empowerment and Advocacy Project, which provides technical assistance and funding to Affiliate organizations to carry out nonpartisan voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts. LEAP organizations have registered a total of over 100,000 voters since 2002.

A laser-focused plan

PAZ is happy to register anyone who’s interested and eligible, from a 74-year-old woman who registered at her church to a high school student who will turn 18 on Election Day, November 8. Though PAZ works with a wide pool of potential voters, their operations are “intentional and highly targeted,” according to Falcon. Canvassers focus on pockets of neighborhoods in Maricopa County where unregistered Latinos are likely to be, community colleges and churches, for example.

With targeted outreach efforts, they’ve become a well-oiled machine, registering one-quarter of new voters since opening, according to the New Yorker piece. Still, Falcon’s not ready to rest: “We’ve still got 350,000 who need to be registered.”

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Building a movement

“We’ve been very mindful of the issues that our community cares about,” Falcon says of what PAZ advocates for. That commitment is most evident in PAZ pushing for expansion of the local light rail to include South Phoenix, a majority-Latino area of the city, allowing more Latinos to get to work across town.

It’s a succinct way to state PAZ’s mission, which was formed as the result of protests to SB 1070, the infamous bill that encouraged officers to target anyone on the street and demand immigration papers. “It brought a lot of people together who had never been engaged before in public policy life,” Falcon recalls. It’s not just about getting people to vote, Falcon says. “This is movement-building.”

And the movement continues beyond the 2016 election cycle. We will keep working with our Affiliates to help eligible immigrants become citizens, citizens become voters, and the Latino community overall become engaged in policy debates that affect us and our families.

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