Summit to focus on Latino participation in state elections

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Sign outside polling place (Photo by Mike Tobias, Nebraska Public Media)
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By Kassidy Arena , Senior Reporter Nebraska Public Media News

Nebraska’s Latino populations continue to grow and have larger impacts in elections. This is the main topic of the upcoming summit this weekend held by the statewide Latino advocacy group Las Voces.

The state’s Latino population has grown more than 40% in the past decade. And this means Nebraska’s voting populace will look significantly different in the future, according to demographer and professor of sociology at Saint Louis University Ness Sándoval. He will speak about the growing population at the Las Voces Summit: Latino Votes Will Count, Saturday, April 6 8:15 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. CST.

Sándoval projects in two decades, up to one-third of the state could identify as Latino. He said because of this growth, Latino populations should be included much more in elections conversations now and in the future.

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“These are silent changes that are happening. You may not agree with it, but your children and your children’s children are going to absorb it. It’s coming,” he said. “It’ll take a generation to see this happen to the vote, it’ll gradually happen. But it’s not going to happen in the next election. It’ll be marginal impact, but it’s going to come.”

Marty Ramirez, one of the leaders of Las Voces, said that’s why these conversations are important to have now, so people won’t be surprised by a new reality in the coming years. He said the state is slowly seeing more civic engagement within Latino communities, but it’s not yet enough.

“We’re seeing a slow increase of civic engagement of Latinos. Stepping forward and running for elected office,” he said. “We’re seeing a slow shift, a reality shift of people beginning to become engaged. Not as fast as we would like.”

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Nebraska voter turnout in areas with a high number of Hispanic or Latino households have some of the lowest turnout percentages in the state.

The virtual event will include seminars how to get involved in elections in ways other than voting.

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“My goodness, we have the numbers, we have the power to make change. And that’s really one of the motives of where do we go from here,” he said.

The other speakers include Texas educator and activist Rosie Castro, State Sen. Ray Aguilar, Lincoln City Councilperson Michelle Suarez, Grand Island Public Schools Board member Eric Garcia-Mendez and Wood River City Councilperson Blanca Rodriguez. These state leaders will discuss the challenges and successes in running for office in Nebraska as a Latino person.

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