MILWAUKEE – Voces de la Frontera Action (VDLFA) is proud to have galvanized a strong voting network of nearly 20,000, including new and infrequent Latinx and multiracial youth voters, to help deliver Wisconsin for the Biden/Harris ticket, and seven state Assembly and state Senate candidates. This is a historic win that centers around unity and cooperation instead of division and hatred.
The multi-prong grassroots voter outreach of VDLFA demonstrates the importance of year-round and relational organizing.
Wisconsin experienced an impressive turnout of 74% of Latinx voters. Seventy seven percent voted for Joe Biden, according to the 2020 American Election Eve Poll. There are 183,000 eligible Latinx voters in Wisconsin according to the Pew Research Center, and 135,000 of them voted in the 2020 elections, according to Latino Decisions. 46,000 Latinx voters voted early in 2020 compared to 17,000 in 2016, according to Catalist.
Rutilia Ornelas (65) stands with her daughter Paola Barragan (38) outside of the Lane Intermediate School polling location in West Allis on Tuesday afternoon. Moments before this photo was taken, Rutilia voted for the first time. She had her oath ceremony to become a naturalized citizen on Monday the 2nd, just in time to participate in the presidential elections. She has lived in Milwaukee for 26 years and the U.S. for 45. “I feel so happy and proud,” she said. “If you’re a naturalized citizen, go vote!”
“We knew that the Latinx and multiracial youth vote would make the difference in this historic election, and they delivered.” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, Executive Director of Voces de la Frontera Action. “Through our relentless hard work and the Voceros por el Voto program, Voces de la Frontera Action organized thousands of Latinx and youth voters throughout Wisconsin to elect candidates who stand with immigrant workers and their families and for the needs of all working people. VDLFA now has a statewide network of over 20,000 voters and grassroots organizers ready to escalate to the next phase of the struggle in the first 100 days of the new Biden administration with the goal of securing protections for Dreamers and those with Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and expanding protections and abolishing programs like 287g that separate families through executive action.
Nationally, we must continue to build movement power, to fight for legislative relief for the unemployed, small businesses, inclusion for immigrants and mixed imigration status families in all forms of relief, access for all to COVID-19 testing, healthcare, and vaccines. While Mitch McConell and Republicans have held onto a majority in the U.S. Senate, we have a majority in the House of Representatives and a friend in the White House. From our own experience in Wisconsin, in Days Without Latinxs and Immigrants statewide general strikes, we know that if there is enough unity, elected officials will vote for the changes we need. Latinxs, many who are new and infrequent voters, people of color and youth, were critical in toppling an incompetent and toxic administration. Their needs must be central to our collective fight. It is a fight we can win.”
VDLFA reached voters throughout the state via three interrelated programs: traditional phone-banking that targeted Latinx wards across the state; a statewide door-to-door canvassing and car caravan campaign in Milwaukee, Racine, Madison, and Green Bay; and Voceros por el Voto, a relational organizing voting network that leverages existing relationships to mobilize Latinx and multiracial voters. The door-to-door canvasses followed strict COVID-19 protocols to ensure safety.
Natalie Acosta (15) and Katherine Villanueva (16) canvassing in the South Side of Milwaukee in the morning of Tuesday, Nov 3. The youth canvassers, who are members of YES! Youth Empowered in the Struggle, knocked on over 10,000 doors in District 8, a very low turn-out and supermajority Latinx district in Milwaukee.
VDFLA contacted more than 100,000 Latinx voters, and close to 60,000 voters who had either never voted or had only voted a few times in the last three elections.
- Phone calls and texting : Over 765,000 calls to more than 200,000 potential voters were made. The electoral team had more than 26,000 conversations with potential voters.
- Door-to-door canvassing: Electoral team knocked on over 56,000 doors during more than 780 canvassing shifts in 4 cities across the state, targeting heavily Latinx wards.
- Media campaign: VDLFA along with its national partners, Win Justice and People for the American Way (PFAW) , invested more than $800,000 in both English-and-Spanish -language television, radio and digital ads, in Milwaukee & Racine Counties, Brown County, Dane County, and outreach targeting rural areas of Walworth County, Manitowoc County, and Trempealeau County.
In addition to the VDLFA GOTV campaigns, Voces de la Frontera (VDLF), the sister organization of VDLFA, organized a statewide non-partisan elections protections
program to ensure that Latinxs in Wisconsin would have fair access to the polls on election day, with trained poll watchers stationed at sites in Latinx communities in Milwaukee, Racine, Waukesha, Madison, and Green Bay. The program helped Latinx voters navigate the voting process, such as finding their polling place, finding valid proof of residence and valid voter ID, and ensuring that curbside voting was an option for those worried about COVID-19. The VDLF poll watchers also served a vital function of translating and interpretation, especially at sites that did not have bilingual poll workers.
“We have been providing this support for years because there have been issues of disenfranchisement of Spanish-speaking voters for years, but we really ramped it up in 2020 because of Trump’s voter suppression tactics,” said Anna Dvorak, VDLF Elections Protection Coordinator. We wanted to make sure that new Latinx voters were able to exercise their right to vote.”
In down-ballot races, several of VDLFA’s endorsed candidates scored important wins as well. In Milwaukee County’s District 8, VDFLA helped Sylvia Ortiz-Velez win and in District 9 VDFLA’s support helped re-elect Marisabel Cabrera. In District 11, Dora Drake comfortably won with the support of VDFLA volunteers; in District 13, VDFLA propelled Sara Rodriguez to a win; in District 14, Robyn Vining (D) scored a win; and Supreme M. Omokunde won in District 17. In Racine, Greta Neubauer also won State Representative in District 66. In Brown County, VDLFA helped deliver a win for Kristina Shelton as 90th District State Representative, who will now represent one of the most heavily Latinx wards in the state.
These victories ensured that the Republican dream of a veto proof state legislature was not realized. The importance of down ballot wins also highlights the power of relational organizing: the Voceros por el Voto network will continue to mobilize Latinx votes in local elections moving into 2021. This grassroots mobilization does not die out once the presidential elections come and go. We are here to stay and will continue organizing in the communities where we won and expanding our work into new districts.
Members of the VDLFA Green Bay team pose for a celebratory photo between canvassing pushes on Nov 3. From left: Fabi Maldonado, VDLFA Political Director; Idalia Cervantes, VDLFA Green Bay Organizer. On right from back to front: Miguel Rodríguez, Michelle Rodríguez, Ernesto Martinez.
The key takeaway from VDLFA’s electoral organizing work is that mobilizing people of color voters who are not easily targeted by a traditional voter model requires starting early and building from grassroots relational organizing based in community relationships. Short-term transactional voter-mobilization is not an effective model and rooted permanence in the community matters. Voceros por el Voto harnessed the electoral power of those who are ignored and forgotten by mainstream electoral organizing, including DACA recipients, TPS recipients, newly naturalized citizens, and immigrants of other statuses who cannot exercise the right to vote. Through relational organizing, these immigrants hold great electoral power by encouraging their friends and loved ones to vote with them in mind — because “your vote is their voice.” On Nov 3, Wisconsin’s immigrant voices rang loud and clear.