PHOENIX (AP) — The national Mi Familia Vota organization has long been involved in voting rights issues and other matters of civic engagement, but this year it’s added a new initiative: Recruiting bilingual poll workers.
The Phoenix-based group is joining advocacy organizations, nonprofits and even businesses across the U.S. in trying to persuade younger people to work at polling places, especially those who are bilingual.
The coronavirus has upended how elections officials recruit poll workers, who are typically older and thus more susceptible to becoming seriously ill from COVID-19.
Using digital recruitment campaigns and celebrity endorsements, various groups are selling the role as a key to democracy. Major companies such as Old Navy also have jumped in, offering employees paid time off to work the polls.
Eduardo Sainz, Mi Familia Vota’s Arizona state director, said ensuring that poll workers can communicate in Spanish is critical even in a state where most voters cast ballots by mail or by using drop boxes. Newer voters especially seem reluctant to trust their ballot to the Postal Service.
“Time after time, because of language barriers or intimidation, our community was getting turned away at the polls,” he said.
The group has appealed to its social media followers and partnered with the TV network Univision to reach its goal of recruiting 200 Spanish-speaking poll workers in Pima and Maricopa counties.
“We need to make sure that every voter gets their vote to be counted and no voter gets turned away, and that means investing and having individuals who are culturally competent and speak several languages,” Sainz said.
That will be especially important in a year that is projected to see a record turnout of eligible Latino voters — some 32 million, according to the Pew Research Center. Census data shows about 12.6 million Latinos cast votes in the 2016 general election— about 47% of those eligible to vote. In Arizona, Latinos account for nearly a quarter of registered voters.
Andria Bibiloni, a law student in Philadelphia, became a first-time poll worker during Pennsylvania’s June primary after getting an email from an advocacy group the night before. The email came in at 7:54 p.m., desperately seeking 100 poll workers because of an expected shortage. By 6:30 the next morning, Bibiloni, a Puerto Rican from New York who speaks Spanish, was at her assigned polling location.
She said she never got to use her language skills because no voters asked for a translator, but she learned how much other help voters need at the polls.
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