Bringing Diversity to the Voting Population

June 29, 2012 -- Working Partnerships USA

“Diversity” in California’s Santa Clara County – where Working Partnerships USA is located – is not a lightly used term.

For starters, the 1.8 million people who live there at the southern tip of San Francisco Bay would say the word in more than 100 languages and dialects. Almost 60 percent of the county’s children have at least one parent who is an immigrant. Less than 40 percent are non-Hispanic whites.

Yet in a county so diverse, the voting population is still relatively homogenous, with young people and immigrant communities identified by the county’s Registrar of Voters as comprising a smaller proportion of voters than are eligible to vote.

“That’s why we were excited when the county called for organizations like ours to help with voter registration and education,” said Working Partnerships Executive Director Cindy Chavez. 

Working Partnerships registered more than 4,000 voters this spring in a county-funded registration and education effort targeted at young Hispanic and Vietnamese voters. Lead the Vote 2012, Working Partnerships’ team of bilingual young voters, spent weeks conducting events at high schools and colleges not only getting new voters on the rolls but teaching them about California’s new “top two” primary system as well as how to find their polling place and the importance of voting.

Then Lead the Vote 2012 held events at San Jose State University and at the San Jose Flea Market that included free ice cream (view a slide show of the flea market event) to publicize the approach of the registration deadline for the June 5 California Primary.

“Many of the people we approached said no one had ever talked to them about voting before,” said Lead the Vote 2012’s lead organizer, Jamie Chen, who did news media interviews in English, Spanish and Mandarin.

Lead the Vote 2012’s success – it surpassed its registration goal by 500 voters – was noticed.

KQED-TV, the Bay Area’s largest public broadcasting station, decided to include a segment on the program as part of a special report to be telecast May 30 on the importance of the Asian vote in the 2012 elections. The station’s segment will feature the phone-banking effort in English, Spanish and Vietnamese to encourage newly registered voters to actually cast ballots (view pictures). 

Now Working Partnerships is preparing to beat its own records with a second voter registration and turnout effort timed to the Nov. 5 national elections.

“Voices can't be heard at the ballot box if voters’ names aren't in the registration books,” Chavez said.