CASA pushing Latino voter turnout in York County

Jason Addy
York Dispatch
  • CASA is trying to reach Latino and immigrant voters in the final days of the campaign.
  • The organization registered more than 3,500 new voters in southcentral Pennsylvania.

With the election just days away, voter outreach efforts are in full swing to increase enthusiasm and turnout.

CASA, a nonpartisan immigrant service organization with an office in York City Hall, is sending volunteers door-to-door in York County to remind people to vote and to help them find their polling places.

Joanna Guerrero, with CASA, left, gets contact information from resident Shamika Torres, of York City, while knocking on doors and encouraging residents on her list to vote as part of a CASA voting initiative in York City, Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Over the last few months, about 50 volunteers at CASA registered more than 3,500 new voters in southcentral Pennsylvania, CASA Regional Director Elizabeth Alex said.

CASA announces voter-registration push in York

“We make sure everyone has the tools and information they need to get out and vote,” Alex said. “We reach back to each of those voters we registered to make sure they know where their polling place is.”

While the organization’s volunteers tried to register every eligible voter they found, they focused their efforts in York County on reducing the “significant gap” between the number of eligible voters and the number of registered voters in Latino and immigrant communities, Alex said. Latinos make up 28.5 percent of York City's population, according to the latest Census data available from 2014.

A number of CASA’s volunteers and canvassers are immigrants and new citizens, Alex said, including Sara Salazar, who became a U.S. citizen in October 2015.

Salazar has lived in York since emigrating from Peru in 2005, but she said she decided to seek full citizenship last year because she wanted to speak up for those in her community who cannot vote and to be a good example for her children.

“I decided to go and do it so I could vote this time,” Salazar said. “Especially, this election is important because we have a candidate that is not a good person, so I want to vote against that person.”

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has roused the Latino community this election cycle with his hard-line stance on immigration. In a June 2015 speech announcing his candidacy, Trump said Mexicans are bringing "lots of problems," drugs and crime across the border, before clarifying moments later that he meant the problems were "coming from all over South and Latin America."

"All of the Latinos who have the privilege to vote have to take advantage of that and show what we stand for," Salazar said. "If I don't vote, it means I'm OK with Donald Trump leading this country — and I'm not."

Since the first week of September, she has volunteered 15 hours a week, canvassing neighborhoods and answering any questions voters have about going to the polls.

Even when she’s not at the CASA office or knocking on doors, Salazar said, she always ends up talking with people about the election and tries to encourage them to vote.

“I’m trying to explain how important it is, our choice, to have a choice and to take advantage of that,” Salazar said, noting that the election will be a “huge event” for her and her children.

CASA canvasser Mirna Gonzalez said she had never participated in an election before but had to get involved this year.

“I felt that we all have to kind of wake up the community and try to guide them somehow to the voting polls so we can all have our voice heard and make a difference,” Gonzalez said. “We have the right to vote, and it’s our responsibility. They have to know that. They have to learn they have the freedom to do it.”

Gonzalez said the voters she has talked to during her canvassing are interested in raising the minimum wage and reforming the education system and are concerned about the use of force by police.

Joanna Guerrero, of York City, said she spends 20 to 30 hours a week knocking on hundreds of doors to encourage people to go vote, no matter what their party affiliation is.

Joanna Guerrero, with CASA, knocks on doors to encourage residents on her list to vote and leaves them informational resources as part of a voting initiative in York City, Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

“We just try to get people to vote for anyone,” Guerrero said. “We just want people to go vote.”