The last two days of early voting line up with the popular Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos, and as they pray for and remember family members who have died, some Nevada Latinos are also keeping an eye on a midterm election that, thanks to Donald Trump, has taken an ugly anti-immigrant turn.
“I don’t even want to put it out there,” said Jessica Jimenez, 24, when asked about anti-immigration rhetoric permeating politics. “Because if I put it out there I’m— not believing it, but I’m furthering the rhetoric and I don’t want to do that at all.”
Jimenez has been going to the Día de los Muertos festival since she and her siblings were little. Her father passed away this year and now his photo will be placed on their alter.
“It’s life and death,” Jimenez said. “We wanted to celebrate him and his life.”
Jimenez already voted early. When her father became a citizen it’s one of the first things he did, she said. He voted every chance he got — midterms, primaries, presidential elections — and she says he passed that on to her and her siblings.
“Since he passed, that is the number one thing I did. I voted,” Jimenez said. “It’s something very close and personal to us.”
How prevalent that sentiment is among other Latinos will go a long way toward determining election results in Nevada.
Latinos are a critical voting bloc in Nevada, and their turnout will do much to determine races up and down the ballot, including a U.S. Senate race between Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen and GOP incumbent Dean Heller that Democrats must win to have any hope of taking control of the Senate.
Heller’s campaign earlier this year announced “Juntos con Heller,” a group of more than 250 Latino supporters, and done aired some Latino advertising.
Rosen’s outreach has been more active, including several Spanish-language television and digital ads, and Democrats enjoy the support of Latino political infrastructure in the state, which includes public interest and labor organizations. The Culinary Workers Union, which has 57,000 members and is 54 percent Latino, has also thrown their considerable weight behind Rosen’s campaign.
Still, incendiary ads connecting Latinos with gangs like MS-13 and vilifying sanctuary cities have cluttered the state and the nation throughout the campaign. And in the closing days of the campaign, Trump has stoked anti-immigrant sentiment, from promising unconstitutional executive orders to overturn birthright citizenship, to deploying troops to the Southern border to intercept asylum seekers who are still several hundred miles away from any U.S. territory.
Democrats have an edge in early ballots, 42 percent to 39 percent over Republicans, with 20 percent cast by unaffiliated voters. Rosen had a 9-point advantage in Latino voter support in a New York Times Upshot/Siena College poll conducted this month. But with four days until Election Day, it remains an open question whether Latinos will show up in numbers needed to get Democrats over the finish line.
Latinos make up 19 percent of eligible voters in Nevada, according to the Pew Research Center, but their political power has not yet been fully tapped.
Even before Trump began ramping up his no-holds-barred anti-immigrant rhetoric, polls indicated that Trump, his presidency, and the Republican-controlled Congress were effectively acting as get-out-the-vote effort for the Latino community.
The midterm drop-off
“We do know that slowly but surely Latino participation in elections is increasing, but it’s not keeping up with the number of potential voters,” said Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz. “We haven’t come of age yet.”
“But we have been turning out more and more every election cycle,” Diaz said.
More than a million Nevadans voted in 2012, but two years later in the 2014 midterm elections, about half as many voters cast ballots. That drop-off included more than 64,000 Latino voters who voted in 2012 but sat out 2014, according to Latino Decisions. From the start of the election cycle, Republicans have been counting on low voter turnout in midterms to help them win. Heller openly acknowledged that his election depended on low Democratic voter registration and turnout.
The Republican hopes for low turnout may not be playing out as planned. Early voting participation has been much more robust this year.
“I’m excited to see, especially with this much turnout, and breaking records in turnout, how much more we’ve participated, and comparing it to the past midterm,” Diaz said. “I think that will be very telling — that the Latino community in Nevada as a state is maturing, and acknowledging that we need our voice heard at the ballot box, and that we need the right people to represent us as a community.”
The challenge is to engage the Latino population, of whom many are not native born and tend not to dive into U.S. politics.
“We are an immigrant community,” Diaz said. “It takes time to develop and foster that civic engagement and that awareness of how important it is to vote. I compare myself to my colleagues, and their families came three, four, five generations ago and they are very active and passionate about their voting.”
Christina Lovato, 40, who went out to the Dia de los Muertos festival to celebrate with family, gave a similar theory for Latino’s historically low voter participation.
“If you’re parents weren’t citizens for a while or still aren’t citizens, it might not have been such a big thing in your household,” Lovato said. “You didn’t see the importance as much as somebody who’s had a long generation of people that have been voting for a while so it’s something that comes as second nature to them.”
Growing up, voting was not something that was discussed in her household, said Lovato. But she said voting in this midterm is “very, very, very important.” She early voted and made sure to register her son and ensure that he early voted.
“To be honest I don’t usually do midterms, but I do like to do presidential elections,” Lovato said. “But this one, it just feel like it’s very very important. It might be the most important of all time. That’s the way it feels.”
She said the anti-immigration rhetoric by the current administration is contrary to her core beliefs, and believes cultural diversity is a strength in the United States.
“I don’t like things that divide. People should be united,” Lovato said. “Saying ‘these people are no longer good lets get them out of here,’ that’s not something I agree with.”
“Around the board every conversation we’ve had with Latino households, whether it’s English or Spanish, folks know that the issues at stake are at a peak,” said Democratic Assemblyman Nelson Araujo, who’s is running for Nevada secretary of state. “They know that our community is being threatened. They know that there have been countless attacks waged against us as a country, as a state, and as a community, and they are ready to stand up.”
Early voting locations in Clark County were generally lacking in areas where Latino’s frequently visit. While there were 53 polling locations at Albertson’s grocery stores across the state, there were only 5 polling locations combined located inside La Bonita and Cardenas, grocery stores popular among Latinos and generally located in areas with high Latino populations.
Araujo said even when polling locations were in these high Latino areas “they weren’t consistent” and “they weren’t long term.”
“One of the things I want to do is work with our county registrars to make sure we’re looking out for all of our communities,” Araujo said, “especially underserved communities to make sure we’re increasing access to the ballot box.”
Diaz said there is good indication that placing polling location in areas trafficked by Latinos increases Latino turn-out.
“I have been checking Assemblyman Flores early vote count numbers compared to mine and I have seen that when the Cardenas voting was taking place his numbers spiked,” Diaz said.
“I believe that we really should take a look and see what were the polling sites that were the most popular and well-attended, and try to either expand how many days we have the site there or even look at the possibility of including new ones,” Diaz said.
‘…but I care, especially now’
Jazmin Alvizo, 17, and Jennifer Alvizo, 19, remember their grandma, who is from Guerrero, Mexico, celebrating Día de los Muertos. They feel the festivals have a connection to the remaining days of early voting.
“I think it’s got to influence people to get out and vote. Because they think this is our holiday, they celebrate it and feel heard because this is something for the Latinos. They all come together and I think that pushes them to come together and vote.”
“I wish I could vote,” Jazmin said, describing her experience participating in the 2018 Nevada Student Mock Election conducted by the secretary of state’s office.
“She is really into that kind of thing,” her sister quips.
Jennifer hasn’t voted but said she is planning to vote on Election day. It will be the first time she votes.
“I would have voted if I had the chance for the presidential election,” Jennifer said. “I’m not so into voting, but I care, especially now.”
Meantime, the tenor of the campaign has been arduous for many in the Latino community including Jessica Jiminez, who expressed not anger at Trump, but sadness at the overt anti-immigrant sentiments displayed in even the highest office in government.
“I know my people. I know the people I’m surrounded with and those people are the best most hard working people I know,” Jiminez said.
On Tuesday, Nevada, and the country, will find out if they voted.