Latino Vote 2016

The power of one vote: The Latino vote in Pennsylvania

By Stephanie Presch, Content Editor/Writer

As Election Day approaches, NCLR Latino Vote Fellows across the country are educating eligible Latinos in their communities about the importance of their right to vote.  

One of these Vote Fellows is Michael Toledo, Executive Director of Centro Hispano in Reading, Pennsylvania. Toledo and his staff face a series of challenges in their work, one of which is educating the local Hispanic community that their vote matters in an election year where millions of people will head to polls to vote.  

“They don’t understand the impact their vote has locally,” Toledo says. This is why Centro Hispano’s civic engagement focus at the local level is so important.

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Toledo explains that he and his staff are first concerned with ensuring access to the polls when voters go to cast their ballot. One of the difficulties in ensuring that access has been the language barrier that exists for some members of Reading’s Latino community.

“Some of them are fearful to go to the polls because of the language barrier,” Toledo explains, adding that people he has worked with wonder, “Can they get help? Will they get help?”

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Not only has Centro Hispano worked to ensure that there will be interpreters, bilingual staff, and Spanish ballots at the polls, they have also worked hard to engage the local community in the electoral process. Centro Hispano has partnered with the local community college in Reading, broadcasting Spanish-language PSAs on the college’s radio station about registering to vote, as well as carrying out voter registration drives through the local community.

Centro Hispano is also a grantee of the NCLR Latino Empowerment and Advocacy Project (LEAP) which provides organizations with funding and technical assistance to carry out nonpartisan voter engagement.

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Centro Hispano has already taken their voter registration efforts to Reading Area Community College. Many students there are millennials, who have never voted in an election before. What was surprising about the experience, Toledo indicates, was that it did not require much effort to convince them that they should register to vote in the election.

In fact, the students seemed almost relieved that representatives from Centro Hispano were there to help them register.

“They would say things like ‘I’m so glad you’re here, I need to register’,” Toledo recalls, adding that, “It wasn’t us seeking them out, it was them seeking us.”