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55 Years After Historic Voting Rights Act Victory, Record Turnout Expected Among Hispanic Voters

ROCHESTER, NY (WXXI) - Hispanic voter turnout is expected to break records this election. But the right to vote for some Latinos was not always a guarantee.

In 1965, the same year as the Voting Rights Act, Maria Lopez, a 21-year-old Spanish-speaking Puerto Rican woman living in Rochester, challenged the Monroe County Board of Elections' decision not to register her to vote.

The reason? While Lopez met federal education requirements, New York state mandated that voters had to be educated in English. A federal judge overturned that. It was a controversial landmark decision that ensured that non-English-speaking citizens had the right to vote.

“Yo quiero votar también. Translated: I want to vote, too. And she was able to actually overcome all of the redlining that occurred in our very own city and was able to cast her vote,” said Annette Ramos, executive director of the Rochester Latino Theatre Company.

Ramos has adapted Lopez’s story into a monologue and performance piece for the Susan B. Anthony Museum and local schools. Lopez's legacy has affected generations, she said.

This year, the Pew Research Center approximates that there are more than 2 million Latinos who are eligible to vote in New York state; 14.8% of the state’s eligible voters.

In Monroe County, Pew estimates that 7.4% of eligible voters, 40,000 people, are Hispanic.Anthony Plonczynski-Figueroa with La Cumbre,a Latino advocacy group, said that just over half are registered to vote, the majority Democrats or unaffiliated.

According to La Cumbre, about 52% of Latino voters in the county participated in the 2016 general election. This year, about 6% have cast their ballots in the first four days of early voting based on La Cumbre’s estimates -- a mix of self-reporting and market research.

There are still challenges for many in this voting bloc. Some need translation assistance or help with transportation. People displaced from Puerto Rico are more likely to be transient, making it harder to keep their voter status as they may move weeks or months after registering to vote, Figueroa said.
He also said that voters encountered several issues during the June primaries.

“Incorrect ballots being given to voters, candidates not appearing on the ballot. Voters receiving absentee ballots not on time or not at all, and then polling sites running out of ballots to name a few issues,” said Figueroa.

He also mentioned that this year's "get out the vote" efforts had to adapt to the pandemic. For instance, instead of caravans, or “caravanas,” to get people to the polls, La Cumbre is using donations to shuttle people by Lyft and Uber to the polls for what he said is one of the most important elections of our lifetime.

“What’s at stake is the direction of our local and state government as well as the country,” he said. “We see an uptick in voter turnout for Latinos in every presidential election. I imagine this one is not going to be any different. If anything we’re looking at historic numbers.”