Getting out the Hispanic vote: Volunteers plan to knock on 10,000 doors

Casa Norte and Puerto Rican Cultural Center launch effort this weekend canvassing Northwest and Southwest sides.

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Jorge Agustin and Heidi Januszewski, of La Casa Norte, knock on doors and hand out flyers Friday afternoon near 35th Street and California Avenue as part of a “get out the vote” campaign targeting Latino voters in Chicago.

Jorge Agustin and Heidi Januszewski, of La Casa Norte, knock on doors and hand out flyers Friday afternoon in Brighton Park as part of a campaign urging Latinos in Chicago to vote.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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For sisters Kassandra and Luz Cortez, Fridays and Saturdays are busy. One delivers food, saving for her future; the other helps asylum seekers.

But this weekend, both are trading those activities for something more important: making sure their neighbors vote.

The two live in a predominantly Latino neighborhood on the Southwest Side, where voter turnout is low, as in other Latino neighborhoods. But this election, they hope to change that, pitching in on a massive effort to boost Latino turnout.

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“By encouraging people to vote, we can hold people in power accountable and vote for elected officials that will invest in our communities,” said Luz, 30, a program manager for La Casa Norte, one of two organizations behind the effort, along with the Puerto Rican Cultural Center.

Leaders from the two groups announced the campaign Friday at the South Side office of La Casa Norte on 47th Street in Brighton Park. To boost Latino turnout, workers and volunteers for the two groups plan to knock on 10,000 doors. The effort started this weekend and will last until the runoff.

Group leaders stressed the effort is nonpartisan, with canvassers focused on making sure voters know how to vote and helping them make a plan to do so.

Flyers handed out by La Casa Norte staffers and volunteers near 35th Street and California Avenue as part of a get out the vote campaign.

La Casa Norte staffers and volunteers knocked on doors and handed out flyers Friday afternoon near 35th Street and California Avenue, part of a campaign urging Latino Chicago residents to vote.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

“Getting more of those voters out to vote for candidates that support the issues they care about is important. It drives change,” Jose Muñoz, executive director of La Casa Norte, told the Sun-Times.

Casa Norte plans to knock on 5,000 doors on the Southwest Side; the Puerto Rican center plans to canvass the Northwest Side. The Hispanic Federation, a national nonprofit with an office in Chicago that sponsored the effort, plans to send out 260,000 text messages and make 130,000 phone calls to Chicago voters.

The effort is crucial, leaders say, given the size of Chicago’s Latino population (Chicago’s second-largest racial ethnic group) compared to how few of those who are registered to vote in majority-Latino wards actually cast ballots. In the 2019 election cycle, the average voter turnout was 35%, but for many majority-Latino wards, turnout was under 30%.

In the 22nd Ward, which includes parts of Archer Heights and Little Village, the population is almost 90% Latino. But only a quarter of registered voters turned out to vote — 5,000 of 20,000.

Roberto Valdez, Midwest director for policy at the Hispanic Federation, discusses a “get out the vote” campaign targeting Latino voters in Chicago during a news conference Friday at La Casa Norte on the Southwest Side.

Roberto Valdez, Midwest director for policy at the Hispanic Federation, discusses a “get out the vote” campaign targeting Latino voters in Chicago during a news conference Friday at La Casa Norte on the Southwest Side.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Roberto Valdez, Midwest policy director for the Hispanic Federation, said the organization was particularly motivated after a recent poll from Northwestern University showed those numbers weren’t likely to change.

That poll by the Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy found only 69% of Latinos were sure that they would vote, compared to 78% of Black voters and 83% of white voters. Valdez called that “very concerning.”

“What that tells us is, there’s a significant group out there that hasn’t made up their mind if they’re even going to vote. ... It’s not even that they don’t know who they’re going to vote for, but they don’t know if they’re going to vote at all,” he told the Sun-Times.

Leaders from the groups cited a variety of reasons for the low turnout, such as new voters simply not knowing how to vote, a situation compounded for non-English speakers.

Kassandra explained some Latino voters don’t trust the government or feel their vote doesn’t matter.

After the news conference, the 28-year-old and her sister headed for a section of Brighton Park in the 12th Ward. That particular area is 73% Latino, but only 6,000 of 20,000 registered voters showed up last election.

Kassandra Cortez leads a group of La Casa Norte staffers and volunteers as they knock on doors and hand out flyers Friday afternoon near 35th Street and California Avenue as part of a “get out the vote” campaign targeting Latino voters in Chicago.

Kassandra Cortez leads a group of La Casa Norte staffers and volunteers as they knock on doors and hand out flyers Friday afternoon near 35th Street and California Avenue as part of a “get out the vote” campaign targeting Latino voters in Chicago.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The younger Cortez is saving up for graduate school and typically delivers for DoorDash Friday evenings, a lucrative period where earnings are nearly double her usual take.

She gave that up to volunteer alongside her sister, and she hopes to convince her community that the municipal election was the perfect time to prove their theory about voting wrong.

“A lot of people feel there’s no point in voting, but if you really feel that way, you should start with local elections, because you’re much more likely to see your efforts make a difference there,” she said.

Amy Qin, a data reporter with WBEZ, contributed to this story.

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.

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