Envisioning a New Voting Rights Act for the 21st Century At UCLA conference, experts map out new federal protections after an election season marred by suppression and intimidation

By Mary Braswell

Voting rights experts from around the country gathered at a UCLA conference to brainstorm ways to protect Americans’ access to the ballot box, even as votes cast in the 2020 election continued to be challenged in court.

Elected officials on the front lines of the civil rights fight joined legal scholars, policy analysts, attorneys and advocates at the Dec. 8–9 virtual seminar. The event was hosted by the Voting Rights Project, a division of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin.

The seminar’s organizers intend to turn the attendees’ shared wisdom into a report to Congress that could help shape comprehensive national legislation to safeguard the right to vote.

Among the topics that guided the conversation: voter suppression and intimidation during this year’s election cycle and the Supreme Court’s 2013 rollback of core provisions of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“This is what we get when we have elections without the full protection of the federal Voting Rights Act that stood and served well for more than 50 years,” California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said. “It has unleashed the floodgates for a lot of the voter suppression measures that we’ve seen in the last seven years and we saw in full display in the 2020 election.”

Texas Rep. Marc Veasey, who co-founded the Congressional Voting Rights Caucus, said the country is witnessing “egregious stories that you would think we wouldn’t be seeing in modern-day America.”

In his state, he said, officials have attempted to require people registering to vote to first produce a birth certificate or passport. Another proposal, seen as an invitation to voter intimidation, would have permitted cellphone recordings of citizens casting their ballots as a way to document “fraud.”

“We’re revisiting a very dark time in U.S. history where people just absolutely have no regrets at all about rolling back the rights of people to be able to vote, particularly people of color,” he said.

For example, Padilla noted, during the Georgia primaries, the wait time to vote in Black neighborhoods averaged 51 minutes, compared with six minutes in white neighborhoods.

While some state and local jurisdictions are pushing for rules that chip away at the freedom to vote, others are lighting the way for federal reforms, the speakers stressed.

Padilla and Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea spoke of changes in their states that have made it easier for citizens to register and vote — changes that were accelerated because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What made this cycle different is that the pandemic focused us to reexamine how people vote,” Gorbea said. “And in many of our states we adapted our democracy to provide easier and safer access to the ballot box, which meant that people could vote while still taking care of their health.”

The seminar included workshops that zeroed in on specific facets of the voting rights movement, including fair redistricting, equal access for low-income and minority communities, planning for the next public health crisis, and overcoming procedural hurdles that have blocked past efforts to bring change.

Panelists and participants in the audience weighed in on the strengths and omissions of legislation already in the pipeline, including HR1, the For the People Act, and HR4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Panelists represented several organizations with long histories of championing voting rights, including the ACLU, Campaign Legal Center, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

The discussion took place amid persistent efforts by President Donald Trump and some of his supporters to discredit the results of the 2020 presidential election. Padilla said those efforts have been fueled by “baseless conspiracy theories that have been spewed that seek to question the legitimacy of votes cast by Black voters and Latino voters, among others.”

The seminar capped a hectic electoral season for the Voting Rights Project, whose members conducted research, wrote policy reports and appeared in court to battle efforts to disenfranchise voters.

Tye Rush, a UCLA political science doctoral student, said a reinvigorated Voting Rights Act for the 21st century would eliminate the need for piecemeal litigation of civil rights violations.

“We’re looking to get something in front of Congress that can be signed and that will protect against the onslaught of voting rights–related rollbacks that we’re seeing in this era,” said Rush, a research fellow at the Voting Rights Project.

Crafting a 21st Century Voting Rights Act

Join voting rights practitioners, expert witnesses and legal scholars from around the country for sessions and workshops on procedural pathways to protecting the right to vote during the 21st century.

Keynote speakers include:

  • California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who has strengthened voting rights by increasing voter registration and overseeing the transition from the traditional voting model to vote centers through the Voter’s Choice Act.
  • Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, who has worked to pass automatic voter registration; during her tenure, there has been a 64% increase in general election turnout among voters 18 to 20.
  • Texas Congressman Marc Veasey, who has represented his state’s 33rd district since 2012 and founded the first Congressional Voting Rights Caucus.

VIEW FULL AGENDA HERE

December 8 sign up link: https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/

December 9 sign up link: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/

This event is hosted by the UCLA Voting Rights Project, UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, and the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. 

A New Game Plan for Connecting With Latino Voters UCLA experts join dialogue on lessons from the 2020 election, pointing to the complexities of voting behavior in a growing sector

By Mary Braswell

The pivotal role that Latino voters played in this year’s battle for the White House provides a roadmap for engaging with the diverse and growing constituency in decades to come.

To chart the way, experts from UCLA and elsewhere are digging into data from the 2020 vote to find answers to questions still lingering after Election Day.

Which issues resonated with Latino voters from state to state, in urban and rural communities, and from different ethnicities and age groups? How did President-elect Joe Biden build a winning coalition — and why did President Donald Trump make unexpected gains among the Latino electorate?

A Nov. 24 panel hosted by the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI) and the Aspen Institute’s Latinos and Society Program took aim at these questions, shining a light on the path ahead for both Democrats and Republicans.

“Latinos want to feed their families, they want security, they want a president who’s going to deal with this pandemic, and we saw that in our polling across the board,” Tom Perez,  chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told the virtual audience.

But the panelists emphasized that the biggest takeaway from 2020 is that Latinos do not vote with a single mind.

‘The youth in our community is transforming our electorate, and so we need to reach out to them, get them engaged.’ — UCLA Professor Matt Barreto

“There are things that bind us together, but our politics are unique,” said Matt Barreto, a UCLA professor of political science and Chicano/a studies who advised the Biden campaign. “At the end of the day, Latinos want to be engaged, as Latinos but also as Americans.”

Finding ways for candidates to connect with this complex electorate is a top priority given its rapid growth — more than 16 million Latino votes were cast this year, compared to about 7.5 million in 2004, Barreto said. The trend will continue, he noted, saying that in Arizona alone, 175,000 U.S.-born Latino high school students just missed the chance to cast a ballot this year but will be eligible to vote in 2024 and beyond.

“The youth in our community is transforming our electorate, and so we need to reach out to them, get them engaged, let them feel heard and massively target voter registration campaigns,” said Barreto, who also serves as faculty co-director of LPPI, which is based at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

One notable trend in 2020: Trump’s campaign message that the U.S. economy would be stronger under his watch hit home with both the white, non-college-educated males who formed his base as well as with U.S.-born Latino males under 40 — but “Latinas were not having any of this nonsense,” said Mike Madrid, former political director for the California GOP and co-founder of the Lincoln Project, which was launched by disaffected Republicans working to unseat the president.

“Trump had stronger numbers than anybody anticipated, and we’ve got to recognize that if we’re going to be honest about what’s happening in the community,” said Madrid, who remains a member of the Republican Party.

Broadcast journalist María Elena Salinas, the moderator, said that several other GOP analysts were invited to participate on the panel but declined.

Madrid said the conservative economic, foreign policy and moral platforms that originally drew him to the Republican Party have been replaced by “white identity grievance politics.”

“I believe that the majority party in the next 20 years will be the one that captures the economic aspirations of a multicultural middle class,” he said. “The Republican Party has a significant problem with that because they’re not interested in a multicultural anything. The Democratic Party, I think, really needs to refine some of their economic messages.”

That messaging was met with skepticism on rural stretches of the campaign trail, said panelist Rudy Soto, a Democrat who lost his recent bid to win a congressional seat in the red state of Idaho.

He recounted one conversation with a Latino father and son who asked, “ ‘Why are you pushing to give everything away for free?’…  That doesn’t represent what we are actually about,” Soto said.

“In rural America and much of suburban America, where Hispanic communities are at the forefront of growth,” Soto said. “We’re seeing a lot of struggles when it comes to the Democratic Party’s message connecting with people,” Soto said.

Perez predicted that the Biden administration would be quick to enact policies that benefit the Latino community, building support for the Democrats’ agenda.

As the record turnout in this year’s race showed, “Latinos are difference makers across the country,” helping to tip the scales in tight races from Arizona to Wisconsin to Georgia, he said.

During this election cycle, Democrats used sophisticated modeling tools to tailor messages to multiple Latino audiences, a strategy that has long been used to parse the white electorate.

“For the better part of the 21st century, campaigns have had efforts to micro-target and understand different segments of the white vote: suburban women, non-college-educated men, young, sort of hipster Portland types, whatever it is,” Barreto said.

The Biden campaign used the same technique — massive sampling and community-driven outreach — to zero in on issues important to diverse Latino segments, he said.

U.S.-born children of immigrants who are voting for the first time likely have different priorities than families rooted in their communities for several generations, he said. And voters with ties to Cuba, Venezuela, Central America, Mexico, Puerto Rico and elsewhere bring their own lenses to the American experience.

Democrats are now studying the lessons of 2020 to position themselves for future engagement with the Latino electorate, the panelists said. This includes building up the infrastructure to more aggressively combat misinformation, lobbying for fair maps in the next round of redistricting, and grooming Latino candidates for office up and down the ballot.

“Latinos, like other voters of color, cannot be taken for granted by either party, candidates or campaigns,” said LPPI Executive Director Sonja Diaz in remarks ending the webinar. “The campaigns that inspire Latino turnout will be rewarded with winning margins.”

The UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative and Aspen Institute Latinos and Society Program launched a partnership to highlight the importance of the Latino vote in 2018, following the U.S. midterm elections. Read more.

View the video of this year’s LPPI-Aspen Institute panel.

UCLA Voting Rights Project Scores Court Victories

UCLA’s Voting Rights Project (VRP) scored major court victories in Texas and Pennsylvania in its fight against attempts to suppress the voice of voters in this critical election year. In Texas, a federal judge blocked Gov. Greg Abbott’s attempt to limit ballot drop boxes to one per county. VRP, part of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin, partnered with the League of United Latin American Citizens to sue Abbott. Chad Dunn, VRP’s director of litigation, argued the case in federal court on Oct. 8. The following day, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman struck down Abbott’s order, finding that it resulted in substantial confusion, created burdens on disabled, elderly and minority voters, and “likely violates their fundamental right to vote.” To support the case, Matt Barreto, VRP’s faculty director, co-authored an expert report with research fellow Michael Rios MPP ’20 and political science doctoral students Chelsea Jones and Marcel Roman. They documented that Abbott’s rule would force some voters to travel more than 90 miles round-trip to a downtown ballot return center, as opposed to a satellite county office within five miles. The research also found that many voters preferred using official drop-off sites rather than mailing in their ballots due to concerns about Postal Service slowdowns. In Pennsylvania, a U.S. District Court dismissed a lawsuit filed by President Trump’s reelection campaign that sought to place several restrictions on voting, including prohibiting voters from submitting ballots in drop boxes. VRP submitted an expert report documenting the importance of ballot drop boxes and the need to prevent voter intimidation. In the event these rulings are appealed, VRP is ready to file an appellate brief to defend every citizen’s right to vote.

Update: On Oct. 27, the Texas Supreme Court upheld the governor’s order to restrict the state’s counties to only one drop-off site for mail-in ballots.

 

A Call for a Nationwide Vote-by-Mail Option

The UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI) and its marquee advocacy project, the UCLA Voting Rights Project, hosted an April 2 webinar on the importance of vote-by-mail programs in upcoming primaries and the November general election amid the coronavirus pandemic. Leading experts on voting rights joined the conversation, moderated by Sonja Diaz, LPPI’s founding executive director. With Election Day just months away, “it is not a matter of if, or a matter of when — the question is how do we provide the opportunity for people to vote because we must and we will,” California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said. Stanford Law Professor Pamela Karlan added, “This is not the first time Americans have voted during a crisis.” Matt Barreto, LPPI and Voting Rights Project co-founder, emphasized the importance of outreach to communities of color, and Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley assured that “voters will adapt and are looking for opportunity and expanded access.” The Voting Rights Project has released a report outlining four steps that states can begin implementing now, as well as memos on a House bill to protect voting rights and on safe voting amid the pandemic. The publications address the equitable implementation of a vote-by-mail program to encourage voter participation. As Chad Dunn, director of litigation at the Voting Rights Project, said at the close of the webinar, “It’s on all of us to double our commitment to democracy and find a way to make this work in all 50 states and territories.” — Eliza Moreno

 

 

 

Voting Rights Project Takes a Stand

Battleground Legislators Meet at UCLA to Develop 2020 Strategies Two days of leadership training energize lawmakers from Arizona, a state that reflects the nation’s changing demographics

By Maria Morales

“You’re the next frontier.”

Those were the words of UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs Dean Gary Segura as he welcomed Latino legislators from Arizona to a two-day leadership academy at UCLA this summer.

The elected leaders came to deepen their understanding of educational, economic and social issues in Arizona and craft policies to address the needs of the state’s Latinos.

This is a crucial time to look at the opportunities and challenges faced by Arizona’s elected officials, said Erica Bernal, chief operating officer of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund and advisory board member of UCLA’s Latino Policy and Politics Initiative.

The conference, which was held Aug. 16-17, was hosted by the two organizations, along with Arizona State University’s Center on Latina/os and American Politics Research.

One of the country’s fastest-growing states, Arizona will be “the marquee battleground state in 2020,” said LPPI faculty director Matt Barreto, a professor of political science and Chicana and Chicano studies at UCLA. The number of eligible Latino voters will be at a record high and the bilingual electorate will be a driving force in the campaign, he said.

For candidates, Barreto said, this creates a challenge: How will they connect and engage with this emerging demographic?

During workshops, conference participants explored demographic changes in the Latino community, the importance of state budget realities, lessons learned from former elected officials, and the essential role of accurate data in crafting policy.

Research- and evidence-based policymaking was a recurring theme throughout the two days. Edward Vargas, professor at the School of Transborder Studies at Arizona State University, shared current polling trends, strategies on how to analyze this data to determine its legitimacy, and best practices on using the numbers to build support among stakeholders.

Vargas also encouraged legislators to think of possible polling questions to engage and communicate with their constituents, keeping in mind the need for culturally relevant questions and true representation of the community.

The conference provided the 13 members of Arizona’s Latino caucus with the opportunity to exchange ideas, build a support network and learn how to incorporate research into their policymaking.

During the gathering’s second day, legislators applied the lessons they learned at a practicum led by Sonja Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, and Fernando Torres-Gil, director of the UCLA Center for Policy Research on Aging and professor of social welfare and public policy. The skill-building exercise allowed the legislators to incorporate polling data and effective messaging to develop sound legislative policy ideas.

“It was great to see it all unfold,” said Amado Castillo, a third-year undergraduate policy fellow with Latino Politics and Policy Initiative. “The practicum was quite inspirational as it not only gave the legislators the opportunity to use real examples to formulate policy proposals but also allowed us to look and see what type of legislators they are and what they prioritize.”

The Latino Policy and Politics Initiative and its partners will continue the training academy in December in Tempe, Arizona, and will host two roundtables in Phoenix, the state’s capital, in January and February 2020.

View more photos from the leadership academy on Flickr and Facebook.

Law Conference Explores Latinos and Criminal Justice Daylong event focuses on impact of bias and stereotyping within the legal system on outcomes for Latinos

By Gabriela Solis

A recent UCLA conference sought to fill a knowledge gap about how Latinos interact with the criminal justice system.

With themes such as policing of Latinx communities, community organizing, adjudication and norms, ethics and constitutional culture, the Feb. 8, 2019, conference held at the UCLA School of Law combined the resources of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI), UCLA Law Review and the Bruin X Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. Community advocates, scholars, staff, undergraduates and graduate students heard from a variety of experts, including several UCLA faculty members associated with LPPI.

The first panel, moderated by UCLA Law Professor Laura Gómez, sought to establish the context for discussion of Latinos and the criminal justice system.

“Latino-ness is very contingent,” said Victoria Plaut, professor of law and social science at UC Berkeley, referring to common generalizations about their characteristics. “Latinos are hardworking but lazy; family-oriented but not warm.”

Plaut, a clinical psychologist, shared findings from her research of the psychological processes relevant to diversity and inclusion in legal, educational and workplace settings to highlight the beliefs that often frame Latino experiences.

The panel included Matt Barreto, professor of political science and Chicana/o studies, and Kelly Lytle Hernández, professor of history and African American studies. They spoke about the importance of collecting both qualitative and quantitative data, especially because data from criminal justice entities can be unreliable and inconsistent.

Another panel, moderated by Law Professor Jennifer Chacón, focused on the policing of Latinx communities. During this panel, Amada Armenta, assistant professor of urban planning, shared her expertise on this issue, the subject of her award-winning book “Protect, Serve and Deport: The Rise of Policing as Immigration Enforcement.” Armenta’s ethnographic research in Nashville, Tennessee, studied the role of local law enforcement agencies in immigration enforcement. She described how the logic and culture of policing negatively affected Latino immigrant neighborhoods. Police were incentivized to make as many stops as possible and pull over as many people as possible, Armenta said.

Sonja Diaz, executive director of LPPI, moderated a panel that explored successful methods of organizing communities to change laws, with a focus on direct democracy as a vehicle for criminal justice reform.

Panelist Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, shared his successful experiences with Florida’s Proposition 4, the Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative.  Passage of the initiative restored the right to vote for people in Florida with prior felony convictions.

Cartagena stressed that it is important for individuals with personal experience to participate as leaders in a movement. He also urged organizers to think strategically about how to frame the problem, which he said was essential in the Florida campaign’s victory. The campaign’s focus on second chances resonated well with Florida voters, Cartagena said.

All panels provided a unique perspective on how Latinos fare in the criminal justice system — a sorely under-researched topic, especially by legal scholars.

Learn more about Latinos and the criminal justice system.

Outgoing Sheriff Lacked Political Savvy, Yaroslavsky Says

Director of the Los Angeles Initiative Zev Yaroslavsky spoke to the Los Angeles Times about Jim McDonnell’s defeat in the Los Angeles County sheriff race. Yaroslavsky supported incumbent McDonnell’s last two campaigns but commented on his lack of political savvy. “He didn’t have a political calculus, like in how to show empathy for constituencies that are being squeezed in our community,” Yaroslavsky said. “The immigrant community was not happy about the way the department was dealing with its relationship with ICE.” The article also cited Matt Barreto, faculty co-director of the UCLA Luskin-based Latino Politics and Policy Initiative, which measured Latino turnout in the November 2018 election.

Read the article

 

Policy Academy Offers Tools to Take On Challenges in Latino Communities Three days of workshops at UCLA Luskin teach elected officials from Connecticut to California how to support their constituencies

By Stan Paul

When elected leaders from across the country gathered at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs for three days of workshops on housing, transit, criminal justice, education, public safety and immigration, a recurring theme ran through each conversation.

“Every issue, every single issue, is a Latino issue,” said Sonja Diaz, founding director of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative and a 2010 graduate of UCLA Luskin who got a master’s degree in public policy.

Diaz was speaking to about 60 state legislators, county and municipal officials, school board members and higher education trustees at the first-ever National Education Leadership and Public Policy Academy, held Aug. 3–5.

Organized by LPPI and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, the event was a “master’s course of our policy work … in the hopes that you will take this information and apply it in your communities,” Diaz told participants, who traveled from as far away as Florida, Connecticut and Hawaii.

Discussions led by expert panelists, she said, would be informed by two things: data and facts.

“By shaping policy and making sure this policy is tailored for kids, for immigrants, communities of color and, frankly, all Americans, we’re all better off,” Diaz said. “And we’re going to do it together.”

For Arturo Vargas, chief executive officer of NALEO Educational Fund, one major goal was how to get to the “great unengaged.” Many Latinos have little or no faith in the political system, he said, and “there isn’t any significant investment in Latino voter engagement in the United States.”

Citing the 2016 elections, Vargas continued, “Half of the Latino electorate was not part of the national conversation with the campaigns, and it happens consistently.” He urged officeholders to take up some of this responsibility in their districts.

UCLA Luskin graduate student Gabriela Solis helps lead a real-world policy practicum during the conference. Photo by Tessa McFarland

The weekend series of presentations and workshops was supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and by State Farm. It included opportunities to network with peers and while participating in group sessions, attendees developed tools and information to craft policy reforms on issues such as public safety.

Marisa Perez, a member of the board of trustees at Cerritos College, said many Latino students get their start in higher education at a community college.

“Whatever I can take back to my college to better support our students, that’s what I’m looking forward to learning about,” Perez said as the conference got underway.

Citing an achievement gap in his home state, Jon Koznick, a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, said he wanted more hard data on issues related to Latino youth, especially boys.

“I’m excited to learn a little bit more about how we can have some stronger impact” in economic development and employment, he said.

Speakers and panelists at the academy included researchers from UCLA and other universities, as well as from policy institutes, foundations and associations.

Gary Segura, dean of UCLA Luskin, presented a case study on transit-oriented development in Oakland’s Fruitvale Village, that city’s largest Latino community. With co-panelist Chris Iglesias, chief executive officer of the nonprofit Unity Council, he discussed how the city used transit as a means for economic development and how that affected residents’ socioeconomic well-being.

Segura, a faculty co-director of Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, pointed to the initiative’s empirical study comparing Fruitvale residents to those living in similar communities over a 15-year period in the Bay Area and throughout California. The study found that, although the Latino population in Fruitvale changed by only 1 percent, homeownership increased by 8 percent, the bachelor’s degree completion rate climbed by 13 percent, and household income increased by 47 percent.

“So you can change a place without changing a people if you provide a set of economic structures and opportunities and services,” Segura said.

The dean encouraged participants to seek partnerships with local policy schools. “Oftentimes, communities of color think of universities as not invested in their issues, and, by the way, that frequently is true,” Segura said. “But there are places where that is not true and I would encourage you to look.”

Matt Barreto, UCLA professor of political science and Chicana and Chicano studies, presented demographic data to explain the growth in the country’s Latino population.

“Why is the Latino population growing so quickly? Because we have an extremely young population,” said Barreto, pointing out that the largest population distribution is under age 5; for whites, the largest group is adults in their 50s.

“The population is growing at a rate faster now than most demographers 10 years ago were anticipating or estimating. And it’s almost entirely driven by U.S. births,” said Barreto, also a faculty co-director of LPPI.

Amada Armenta, who joined the UCLA Luskin Urban Planning faculty in July, spoke about the intersections between criminal justice and immigration enforcement systems.

Even in so-called sanctuary cities, contact with the police can have consequences for immigrants because of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s practice of using criminal justice databases to find immigrants and staking out jails and courthouses to take people into custody.

“Interactions with police have important ramifications for the way people feel about local government, democracy and their place in society more generally,” Armenta said. “I want local leaders to understand that … true community policing requires changing police practices so that they align with priorities of neighborhood residents.”

In a keynote lunchtime address, Vargas of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, focused on the U.S. Census.

“The census is really only about two things: It’s about power and money: who gets it, who keeps it, and who’s denied it,” he said. “When the numbers are wrong, the allocation of political power is uneven.”

Legal battles over a proposed citizenship question are being waged in court, he said, but the public also must be heard. The U.S. Census Bureau is seeking public input on the 2020 headcount.

“We need your help, people,” Vargas said. “We need to fight this.”

View more photos from the conference in an album on Flickr.

LPPI NALEO conference