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  • Writer's pictureAlex Sánchez

Election results show how year-round engagement is paying off for Latinos

On a crisp October Saturday, a dozen paid canvassers and a handful of local volunteers from Voces Unidas started to call, text and even knock on doors in Garfield County to talk to voters about the importance of participating in the midterm election.

I remember a conversation with a resident from Rifle, who said he was excited to be voting for the first time. He openly shared some of the issues that he saw as important and pressing for Latinos in the Colorado River Valley. I thanked him – and said that voting is what lifts up the voices of our community.

The unexpectedly close 3rd Congressional District race between Rep. Lauren Boebert and former Aspen City Councilman Adam Frisch is proof that every vote counts. And the year-round work that Voces Unidas de las Montañas and Voces Unidas Action Fund do to engage Latino voters – as well as to identify and train new leaders – is also making a difference in our elections.

Our election-year outreach began in earnest last spring, via thousands of phone conversations with Latino voters in the region to learn about the issues that they cared about before the April municipal elections. It continued through the special elections in May and the primary election in June. And it ramped up in the Fall, leading to the General Election.

The work also included conducting the largest-ever poll of Latina and Latino voters in Colorado as part of our annual nonpartisan Colorado Latino Policy Agenda. That summer survey showed Latinos ranked economic issues among their top policy concerns. But it also showed strong support for policies that expand access to services and resources to a wider segment of the state’s population.

That survey helped inform the “Vote For Our Colorado” outreach campaign. And the impact of our nonpartisan education campaign was evident in the election results, as turnout in the central-mountain region helped secure the success of every ballot measure our organization supported. Among them are new statutes guaranteeing access to free, nutritious school lunches for all Colorado students; a portion of future state tax refunds earmarked for new affordable housing programs; and lodging taxes approved by several counties and municipalities dedicated to funding affordable housing programs.

The impact of Latino voters was not just limited to ballot issues, however. Ten of the 12 candidates backed by Voces Unidas Action Fund won their respective races. That included well-known candidates like Gov. Jared Polis and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, and newcomers like Elizabeth Velasco in House District 57 – who is the first Latina from the Western Slope elected to the State Legislature.

No victory is more representative of our work than that of Velasco, a business owner, daughter of first-generation immigrants, and public servant who executed an intensive, unprecedented campaign across the district’s three counties. We hope that her victory serves as a model for how the Latino community can not only turn out to vote, but build issues-based coalitions across ethnic/racial lines to elect qualified leaders who will represent the entire community.

Rep. Julie McCluskie’s House District 13 victory – and subsequent selection as the next Speaker of the House – will also help lift up the issues and voices of Latinos in the region. She has long been a champion for our causes and, as the leader in the House, her familiarity with and consideration of communities on the Western Slope will be critical.

As a Latino who grew up in Eagle County and as the founder of Voces Unidas Action Fund, I am proud of our involvement in this election. Never has a local community-led group of Latinos been able to build such robust political infrastructure to reach our policy objectives and elect champions for our issues. Because it takes resources and intentionality to reach Latino voters in-person, via phone calls, mail, text messages, and digital advertising, and it also requires having the appropriate legal structures to be able to make direct financial contributions to our endorsed candidates.

Knowing the results of an election shows you who voters supported, but not necessarily why they supported them. To find those answers, and to help inform our upcoming advocacy efforts in the Legislature and in Congress, we led the Colorado Latino Exit Poll – a statewide poll of more than 500 Latinos conducted after they had voted.

Among other findings, that poll showed that successful campaigns and key statewide ballot issues in the 2022 midterms were buoyed by strong support from Colorado’s Latino voters. And it showed us that the primary motivation for Latino voters in 2022 was to stand up for the issues that they cared about and to make positive changes in their communities.

In the end, voting matters – because it helps our community express preferences for the candidates and the issues we care about. But year-round engagement and advocacy matter as much, if not more. Those are the issues that drive the work of Voces Unidas de las Montañas and Voces Unidas Action Fund – and that will continue driving us as we lift up the voices of Latinos in Colorado’s central mountains.

Alex Sánchez is the founder and CEO of Voces Unidas Action Fund, a Latino-created, Latino-led nonprofit organization working in Summit, Lake, Eagle, Pitkin, and Garfield counties.

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