F. Castro /SFVS

Ballot Drop box at Sylmar Park. There are also drop boxes at San Fernando’s Pioneer Park, Sylmar Branch Library, Brand Park, San Fernando City Hall and Los Angeles Mission College.

The 2020 general election is underway.

Registered California voters began receiving their ballots by mail this week, meaning early voting has commenced. Los Angeles county will mail all registered voters a Vote by Mail ballot to ensure they have a safe and accessible voting option due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Julia Macias, 19, has received her ballot and is “excited” about being a first time voter. “I’m elated to have a say. I do know I have a certain duty to make sure vulnerable populations and minorities are represented in my ballot.”

Voters can return their ballots by mail. You can also vote in person at a multitude of voting centers, most of them opening on Saturday, Oct. 24.

But vote.

That is the plain and simple message coming from individuals and groups pushing for as many voices as possible to make themselves heard. 

Lydia Camarillo, president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP), calls this upcoming election “one of unprecedented importance” for communities of color, locally and nationally. 

“There’s no comparisons to other elections with this election,” Camarillo said. “COVID-19 is killing Latino and African American communities in ways we can’t possibly imagine. The communities are not only getting sick and dying — I believe 30 percent who have died from it are Latino — but people are losing their jobs, moving back into their parents’ and grandparents’ homes, something similar to what we saw with the economic downturn in 2009 and 2010…I think it’s happening again.”

Camarillo also points to the dismissive attitudes current President Donald Trump has displayed to communities of color. “This president has attacked every community we can think of: Black, Latino, Muslims — everyone.” And she’s concerned that the recent passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg enables Trump and the Republican-controlled Senate to ram through a nominee onto the US Supreme Court that would tilt the nine-member bench further toward the conservative right with legal decisions pending on issues like the Affordable Care Act. 

It makes this “an even more important election,” she said.

Camarillo and SVREP aren’t the only organizations that feel this way.

Raul Preciado, a Ve Y Vota campaign manager for the National Association of Latino and Elected Officials (NALEO), is also seeking a strong turnout, this time by those who may be disappointed with the results of the 2016 election results.

“Unfortunately for our community in the past, people who haven’t voted have missed their opportunity to decide who should be leading us. And they may be feeling regrets,” Preciado said.

“This year, I believe, a lot of people will [vote] because they do realize how important it really is.”

From Healthcare to Social Justice

National issues are local issues and the disparities directly felt in Los Angeles that include the high rates of COVID-19, under employment, displacement, homelessness, lack of adequate health care, the strain of distance learning persist in the Latino community. 

But the nationwide rallies and protests against racial injustice and police brutality — inspired by the well-chronicled deaths of unarmed victims like George Floyd, Michael Dean, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson and others by law enforcement  — have also provided increased visibility and rising support to advocacy groups like Black Lives Matter and Fair Fight. And Black Lives Matter protests have been joined by family members in the Latino community who’ve lost their loved ones to police violence.

NALEO seeks to have more representation and an increased number of elected offices in the Latino community. And over recent years, younger leadership like New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has risen to the forefront. Ocasio-Cortez — also affectionately known as “AOC” — has strongly encouraged people to mobilize. She and others believe our lives depend on it. 

“We need to act in solidarity and protection for the most vulnerable people in our society who have already experienced the violent repercussions of this administration,” Ocasio-Cortez said in remarks posted on Facebook on Sept. 19.

“The reason we need to do that is because yes, the political middle is willing to sacrifice immigrants. The political middle too often is willing to play both sides when someone dies to police violence. That’s why we need to show up. Because if we don’t show up, those people don’t get protected.”

Camarillo supports those positions and more. But she refers back to the economy with a dire prediction.

“I think we’re going to have the worst economic downturn we’ve seen since the 1930s,” she said, referring to The Great Depression.

Who Will Show Up

There are more than 21 million registered voters in California — which is 84.7 percent of the eligible voter pool and the highest share in the last 68 years, according to Secretary of State Alex Padilla.

The latest numbers show more than 9.8 million registered Democrats in the state, up from 8.2 million in 2016. Republicans have slightly more than 5.1 million registered voters, but only gained roughly 300,000 new voters in the last four years. Meanwhile, No Party Preference voters, which had pulled ahead of Republicans during the summer report, are now back in third place with slightly more than five million registered voters.

There is no single ethnic group with 50 percent or more of the state’s population. But Latino voters make up almost 40 percent, meaning they could have a major impact on this year’s election.

Or not. A September article by the Public Policy Institute of California said that among adult citizens it surveyed, less than 25 percent of the Latino population is likely to vote.

Preciado said that can’t happen in 2020.

“We’re telling people to vote early if you can, because it is safer to vote from home or drop off your ballot,” he said. “Even if you have to go in-person, if you show up during early voting in LA county you’re likely to see less lines of people and you can keep that social distance much better than if you go on Election Day.

“But vote safely and securely. We know some people can’t send a ballot by mail or go vote early in-person. If you go Election Day, make sure you wear your mask and keep your [social] distance. We also know ballots can be rejected if the information is not correct — make sure the signature matches with the one at the registrar’s office and that you fill the envelopes out correctly. That goes a long way in making sure your vote is counted.”

Camarillo said she expects California, along with Texas and Arizona, to be states where Latinos will vote in large numbers.

“In spite of that, we’re still trying to make sure people know they still have time to register online to vote here,” she said. “With the pandemic it will be hard to figure out exactly what kind of turnout we’ll have. But I think it will still surpass the numbers of 2016, when many Latinos and others stayed home.”

 Ocasio-Cortez offered a final, ruminative reflection.  

“No one politician is the answer. No one president is the answer,” the congresswoman said. “You are the answer. Mass movements are the answer. Let this moment really put everything into stark focus. Because this election has always been about the fight of, and for, our lives.

“Whether we like it or not, November is about survival.”