The Report’s next Candid Conversation examines how to amplify the political voice of Latinos in Fort Worth, Tarrant County. To register to attend the free event, click here. This story is part of a series examining the power of the Latino voice in Tarrant County.
During the city of Fort Worth’s redistricting process, Jolt TX organizer Hector Andres Maldonado went door to door trying to educate and engage the Latino community. He and others fought for more voter turnout, more Latino representation on the City Council and many other local issues.
In many ways, they failed, Maldonado acknowledges. But there are lessons in that failure in how to better amplify the voice of Latinos in Fort Worth. Organizers wanted more Hispanic opportunity districts and a different map in the redistricting process.
Maldonado spent time in Fort Worth organizing for Jolt TX, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing awareness to Latino issues.
“We’re dealing with different types of identities here and different ethnicities, too,” Andres Maldonado said. “I think that voter turnout is low because there is just not enough education that exists for voting.”
Andres Maldonado identified issues with voter turnout in the Latino community: time, education and voting status.
He said working class Latinos are occupied with work and family, leaving little time to be active in civic life.
“It’s definitely an education issue. Why? Well, because of that immigrant connection,” Andres Maldonado said. “It’s something that maybe educators should start talking a little bit more about and start reflecting on where we could maybe try to implement more of those like voter resources.”
Though the Latino population is one of the fastest-growing populations in the country, only half are eligible to vote and voter turnout is low, according to 2020 data. The Report’s next Candid Conversation examines how to amplify the political voice of Latinos in Fort Worth and Tarrant County.
Apathy is often the first characteristic to blame among populations that have low voter turnout. But in the case of Latino populations, low turnout also reflects the barriers to democracy in place, experts say.
The Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute, cites disenfranchisement of the Latino vote as a reason for low numbers. Legislation like Senate Bill 1 is hurting Latino voters in Texas.
The bill bans drive-thru voting and overnight, early voting hours, which were options mostly used by voters of color, according to the Texas Tribune. Among others, the Brennan Center for Justice filed a lawsuit against Texas over the legislation, saying it makes voting harder for people who do not speak English or have disabilities. A judge has not yet ruled on the lawsuit. The latest court documents show it is under a temporary administrative stay.
Though Latinos make up more of the population every year, only half of Latinos in the U.S. are eligible to vote, according to the Pew Research Center. The Brennan Center for Justice sites proof of citizenship requirements as a cause of voter suppression of Latinos.
In Fort Worth there currently are 502,083 voters, with almost 85% of the voting age population in the county registered to vote. In the May 7 local election, however, the voter turnout in Tarrant County was only about 8.6%. While Texas does not collect voting registration data by race or ethnicity, the Latino population in Fort Worth is about 35%.
With population numbers that high, Latinos in Fort Worth should have significant political power. Yet, issues some Latinos care about — like getting more council representation through the redistricting process — are failing.
Is voting the answer?
As the Latino population grapples with gaining more political power, will turning out to vote be the answer?
“The thing is Latinos, we have huge families, and maybe you can’t vote, but someone in your family can vote, and maybe that person in your family isn’t voting,” organizer Andres Maldonado said. “Maybe they just need to hear your perspective, why you need them to go out to vote. Just because someone can’t vote doesn’t mean that we should not provide that education available to them because chances are someday they will be able to.”
During his time organizing in Tarrant County, Maldonado noticed how the Latino population in Fort Worth is diverse — people come from all different countries and many are second-, third- or fourth-generation U.S. residents.
“A lot of our parents come from countries where they have a different relationship with politics and their government,” Maldonado said. “For example, my parents, my mom is from Guatemala and my dad is from Bolivia. With Guatemala, there’s a lot of violence that happens there and so my mom’s interpretation of voting and civic engagement has kind of been jaded.”
He also sees an education issue, he said. Growing up, his parents would say all politicians are the same, but he wasn’t spending a lot of time learning about this in school. Students should be educated on how to vote, who can vote and other voting issues so they can be more engaged, he said.
City Council member Carlos Flores knows that any political struggle ebbs and flows based on the circumstances of the time. He remembers his father’s civic engagement growing up and how he wasn’t just trying to serve on council, but on other boards or commissions that were not elected.
As Latinos try to get more political power, Flores said, mentorship and relying on those who did the work before is valuable.
“There is a wealth of information that can be imparted by talking to your current representatives, as well as your past representatives,” he said. “You pick their brains, so that you can draw on their experiences.”
Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.
Cristian ArguetaSoto is the community engagement journalist at the Fort Worth Report. Contact him by email or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.