It turns out, all that was necessary to improve voter engagement and turnout was asking – and repeated, substantive, and informative reminders. The results of a pilot study in Hartford’s Latino community may provide critical insight into how to improve voting levels in the state’s ethnic or urban communities, as the next election season beckons.
In 2012-13, the Hartford Votes~Hartford Vota Coalition conducted a Latino Voter Engagement Initiative with the support of a grant obtained by Hartford Public Library, a founding member of the Coalition. The goal of the initiative was to increase historically low voter engagement in Hartford’s Latino community. It did.
The initiative included traditional voter registration activities, but because voter registration by itself tends not to result in higher voter engagement, additional activities were also included in the initiative. Among them: candidate forums, public programs on relevant topics, production and distribution of publications such as voter guides, canvassing portions of Hartford neighborhoods, conducting a reminder to vote campaign, and civics classes in Hartford high schools.
In addition, a number of meetings were held with leaders and others from Hartford’s Latino community. None of the conversations or interactions were partisan. They focused exclusively on the electoral process, the importance of exercising the right to vote, and providing basic information about public issues. The results of the initiative were impressive:
- Voter Registration: 392 Hartford Latinos were registered to vote.
- Voter Information: 174 Hartford Latinos attended three candidate forums and two public programs. Three publications were produced (Hartford Voters Guide, Citizens Guide, and Guide to the Hartford Board of Education) in English and Spanish and over 4,000 copies were distributed.
- Voter Education: 124 Hartford Latinos participated in the neighborhood canvass; 172 Hartford Latino high school students attended civics classes.
According to a sample survey conducted at the end of the project, 44 percent of Hartford Latinos with whom program organizers interacted reported an increase in their voter engagement. For example, they registered to vote, they voted, or they attended a candidate forum or public program related to major public issues during the project period.
Project organizers concluded that “we identified and demonstrated a successful strategy that can help address the very complex problem of low voter engagement (among Latinos and others): people vote and get involved in greater numbers when they are encouraged to do so through face-to-face contact, and multiple contacts are more effective than single contacts.”
The neighborhood canvass produced especially notable results:
- 54 percent of Latinos who were inactive voters (i.e., they had never voted before or were registered but had not voted in the 2008 and/or the 2010 elections) who participated in the neighborhood canvass reported that they voted in 2012 as a result of the interaction.
- 64 percent of all Latinos who participated in the neighborhood canvass reported that they voted in 2012 as a result of the interaction.
- Those who were spoken with twice voted at a rate 21 percent higher than those that only had one interaction
- 2012 voter turnout among all people included in the neighborhood canvass was 9.1 percent higher than overall turnout in voting districts in which an informational canvass was conducted, and 6.7 percent higher than turnout citywide.
In addition, thirteen high school civics classes were conducted in four different Hartford schools in May and June 2013, which were attended by 172 Latino students. According to evaluation forms completed by most of the students, 91 percent said the class helped them understand more about civics and 82 percent said they were more likely to vote or take action in their community as a result of having taken the class. Comments ranged from “I made my voice heard through my vote” to “I didn’t do it for politics but because people motivated me.”
The Hartford experience has been corroborated by similar research in Detroit and Arizona, according to project organizers. The Coalition’s goal in 2014 is to secure resources that will enable it to ramp up the successful strategies identified through the pilot project and as a result have greater impact.