Editor's note: This story is part of "Every 30 Seconds," a collaborative public media reporting project tracing the young Latino electorate leading up to the 2020 presidential election and beyond.
On Jan. 5, two US Senate runoffs in Georgia will determine whether Republicans or Democrats control the chamber. This has some left-leaning activists trying to galvanize Georgia’s growing Latino community to support Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock.
Immigrant rights organization Mijente teamed up with the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR) Action Network to canvass neighborhoods where Latinos live. According to the groups' data, there are just over 260,000 active Latino voters in Georgia. So, the two organizations are trying to knock on the doors of 300,000 Latino households across the state before the elections.
Since the 1990s, Georgia’s Latino community has grown steadily. That is when a large number of people moved here for jobs ahead of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
But despite the growth, outreach to Latino voters in Georgia has been sparse from both political parties, according to Tania Unzuete, Mijente’s political director. She says that as a result, there’s not much data about Georgia’s Latino electorate.
“It's a result of the Democratic Party not paying attention to it, about resources not being in the Latino community,” she says.
Unzuete says that groups like hers are building their own data as they knock on doors.
The Jan. 5 runoff elections will determine the balance of the US Senate. Incumbent Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are defending their seats. Ossoff is challenging Perdue. Warnock, who preaches at Martin Luther King Jr.’s former church, is taking on Loeffler. Polls show the races are tight.
In addition to canvassing, Mijente and GLAHR Action Network have sponsored some “Get Out the Vote” rallies targeting Latinos. A recent “Joy to the Polls” rally on Dec. 19, featured performances by Atlanta trap artist KAP G and La Original Banda El Limón, as well as speeches from actors Eva Longoria, America Ferrera and Kate del Castillo.
When Longoria took the stage, she repeats a phrase Georgians have heard often since the presidential election.
“Georgia, all eyes are on you,” she says.
Then Longoria says something Georgia voters have heard less often.
“Not only are all eyes on Georgia, all eyes are on the Latino vote in Georgia. And that is you. You will make the difference in this election."
“Not only are all eyes on Georgia, all eyes are on the Latino vote in Georgia. And that is you. You will make the difference in this election,” she says.
Ferrera stresses the importance of canvassing and reaching out to Latino voters.
“Latinos — our people — don't stay home on Election Day because they don't care. ... Most of the time, our people stay home on Election Day because they don't have the information they need to engage to participate. No one knocks on their doors, no one shows up and asks them for their vote.”
“Latinos — our people — don't stay home on Election Day because they don't care,” she tells the crowd. “Most of the time, our people stay home on Election Day because they don't have the information they need to engage to participate. No one knocks on their doors, no one shows up and asks them for their vote.”
Kevin Joachin, a coordinator with GLAHR Action Network, has canvassed across the state. Sometimes he comes across more conservative voters. He says leading up to the November election, some of them were unshakeable in their support for President Donald Trump, but he could convince them to vote for Democrats in local elections.
“We're talking to folks about family separation,” Joachin says. “We talk to folks about what's going on in Puerto Rico…[which is] still being impacted by the effects of Hurricane Maria.”
In one sheriff’s race in Gwinnett County, in suburban Atlanta, for example, Joachin says there was broad support among Latinos for the Democratic candidate Keybo Taylor. Taylor pledged to get rid of a controversial federal-state partnership program called 287(g). It gives local police federal more authority when it comes to immigration enforcement.
As Joachin canvasses through a Gwinnett neighborhood after the Joy to the Polls rally, his luck is mixed. Some people aren’t home — or don’t answer the door. Others listen, nod and agree to vote. Some just listen without commitment.
Unzuete, with Mijente, says canvassers like Joachin are most effective when they talk to people about issues that affect them personally. She says the data Mijente has collected in Georgia so far show issues like immigration, health care and the economy are priorities for Latino voters in the state.
“Talking about COVID[-19], and health care and immigration has been key in these conversations because when we've been able to move people it’s been around health care and immigration reform."
“Talking about COVID[-19], and health care and immigration has been key in these conversations because when we've been able to move people it’s been around health care and immigration reform,” she says.
Just 10 years ago, Georgia passed some of the country’s toughest laws against undocumented people. Now, the tides are turning and Georgia is moving away from the tough policies.
Adelina Nicholls, the co-founder of GLAHR and a longtime immigrant rights advocate, says that kind of change can motivate voters.
"Don't forget your roots. Don't forget your community, because if you think of them, it will benefit all of us, not only as Latinos but our society at large.”
“It’s not only that ‘I have the power to get up to vote and I can vote for whoever I want,’” Nicholls says. “But also think, where are you coming from? Don't forget your roots. Don't forget your community, because if you think of them, it will benefit all of us, not only as Latinos but our society at large.”
Nicholls knows it will be difficult for advocates like her to meet their goal of knocking on the doors of hundreds of thousands of Latino homes in Georgia by Jan 5. But, she says, they’re going to try.