Op-Ed: The Latino Vote Matters Now More than Ever


October 24, 2016 | Chicago, IL

On November 8, millions of registered voters across the United States are going to cast their ballots in the country’s general election. It’s a day that is celebrated as a symbol of democracy, a day our forebears envisioned as an opportunity for we the people to carry on the task of forming a more perfect union.

Voting is an opportunity—and a responsibility—that cannot be taken lightly.

So much is at stake in this year’s election for the community we serve at Erie Neighborhood House, a historic settlement house agency that reaches 5,500 low-income, primarily Latino individuals throughout Chicago each year. There’s the future of immigration reform, of course, but also education, the economy, gun violence, national security and healthcare. And the outcomes down ballot are just as crucial as the presidential race.

At the same time, a recent survey conducted by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News predicts that voter turnout this year will be low. The survey suggests that many voters are turned off by the contentiousness of the 2016 presidential race and that when voter interest wanes, so does voter participation.

That makes sense, but this year’s election is too important for people to stay home.

Equally important to the work we do at Erie House is data from the Pew Research Center indicating that 27.3 million Latinos are eligible to cast ballots this year, up 4 million from the 2012 election. That is a sizeable portion of the electorate—12% of eligible voters in the United States—and suggests that Latinos will have a greater voice in this election than ever before.

Unfortunately, the gap between eligible Latino voters and those who actually vote has been growing larger and larger over the past 20 years. In 2012, just 48% of eligible Latino voters went to the polls, down from 49.9% in 2008. This number pales in comparison with 2012 turnout for white voters (64%) and black voters (67%).

At Erie House, we’re doing all we can to close that gap and mobilize Latinos to vote. This fall we hosted a fellow with the New Americans Democracy Project, sponsored by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and aimed at registering eligible voters in advance of the November 8 general election. We’re also focusing our efforts to encourage registered voters to exercise their right to vote on Election Day.

Both initiatives are part of a broader effort to increase voter engagement, and that work is paying off: According to Sun-Times report citing a State Board of Elections spokesperson, Illinois has an unprecedented 7.9 million active registered voters in advance of the general election.

A popular phrase each election cycle suggests that your vote is your voice. This year, we want to make sure the Latino voice—and vote—is heard loud and clear.

Kirstin Chernawsky is the executive director at Erie Neighborhood House, a historic settlement house agency serving low-income, primarily Latino families in Chicago.

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Erie Neighborhood House (ENH) is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization that reaches 18,000 people annually, empowering them to build better lives while strengthening their communities. ENH offers Chicago’s Latinx and diverse low-income residents a range of community-based education programs. With forward-thinking leadership, ENH is committed to continuing its legacy of cost effective, award-winning programming. For more information, please visit

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