Garfield County Democrats have high hopes for a new Latino outreach campaign. The campaign is based on former Georgia state representative and voting rights activist Stacy Abrams’ New Georgia Project for organizing Black voters in the state.
At a Zoom fundraiser on Dec. 15, 2021, Democrat and community organizer Beatriz Soto said that 89,000 eligible Latino voters are not registered to vote in Congressional District 3 (CD3), which is now represented by Republican Lauren Boebert from Silt. “We are the backbone of the economy,” Soto said. “Now is the time to make sure Latinos are voting.”
U.S. Census data from 2020 show that Latinos make up 25% of those living in CD3, slightly more than the state’s 21.8% Latino population. Pew Research Center data from the same year show that close to 16% of Colorado voters are Latino. In Garfield County, Latinos make up almost 30% of the population.
Soto said in December that Latino voter turnout jumped from 40 to 60% when she ran for Garfield County Commissioner in 2020. In fact, according to data from Voces Unidas de las Montañas, 58.4% of Latinos voted in 2020 in Garfield County, up from 44.5% in 2016. “So we know that when we have more Latinos running for office, more Latinos will turn out to vote,” said Soto.
Debbie Bruell, chair of the Garfield County Democrats, said in an email that even though county voter turnout was great in 2020, the Democratic Party needs to do something different.
“We need to be investing in year-round efforts to connect with folks in a meaningful way,” she wrote. “Especially when it comes to people who have typically been left out of the political process, as many of our Latino community members have.”
She added that Democrats can’t simply tell people to vote for them. “We need to be listening and responding to people, hearing about their hopes and challenges, offering solutions and a vision.”
A similar outreach campaign launched in Boulder County in 2019 and is co-directed by Angel Sanchez and Sonia Marquez. In a Zoom event hosted by the Garfield County Democrats on Jan. 15, Sanchez explained that when the program started, community leaders, undocumented youth, elected officials and others met to share their experiences. “They all said that there’s a need to create better opportunities and advancements for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities,” he said.
Sanchez wanted to know what keeps Latinos from engaging in party politics, from voting regularly or even registering to vote. That has been his quest as a director of the Boulder campaign. So far, he’s found that civic engagement leaders can come from anywhere. “They are the go-to people in their communities and they need to be educated. We were supplying information and the skills they needed,” he said.
One thing he noticed was that youth can make good leaders because they tend to be the voice for mixed-status families or those with language barriers. “They can translate the language, not just from Spanish to English, but from politics to ‘help me understand this,’” he said.
Helping people engage in the process and teaching them the importance of voting is only one piece of the puzzle. “The position also needed to look at … how to get people to be active in the process of understanding what are we voting for and why. How did we get here?” he explained.
He added that the Boulder outreach campaign wasn’t set up just to get votes for the Democratic Party. “We want folks from the Latinx community to be officers in the party. We want them to learn and understand what it takes for them to run for office and be given an opportunity within the party structure to be supported in order to do those things,” he said.
Thus began an assessment of the local Democratic Party, including how it is keeping BIPOC communities from engaging on a deeper level and how to make changes.
Sanchez is excited to see something like the Boulder campaign in Garfield County. “In Boulder County, we very much have numbers to support Democratic advancement and Democratic issues, ideals and values, but this position in Garfield County seems much more imperative and far more crucial.”
Bruell told the Sopris Sun that the Garfield County Democrats plan to hire one full-time person to direct the outreach campaign, but they’re still $10,000 dollars short of a $60,000 funding goal. “We have been in touch with groups across Colorado who recognize how important this position is and they’re eager to help us find the right person to fill it,” she said. You can find more information about the new campaign at www.garcodems.org