I’ve voted in every election since I turned 18 but none more consequential than this one. The contest for the White House features candidates with drastically divergent visions for the future of the American health care system and for how best to address economic inequality. In addition, the California statewide ballot includes 17 propositions on issues of concern to every state resident. These include several initiatives that will affect health care for millions of people — especially those enrolled in Medi-Cal. Latinos can exert a powerful influence on the outcomes of these contests, but only if each and every one of us vote.
Our foundation’s mission is to help California develop a health care system that works for everyone, and the Medi-Cal program is a linchpin of these efforts. Because 52% of Medi-Cal enrollees are Latino, the 2016 election will determine state and national health care policies of vital interest to our community. These policies will affect Medi-Cal funding and the extent to which undocumented people will be eligible to enroll in public programs.
The good news is that California recently set a record with more than 18.2 million registered voters, up 4 million from 2012, and as of September 9, 73% of eligible California citizens were registered. But those impressive figures can’t mask a serious political challenge: We need Latinos to turn out on election day to assert their power to improve the quality of their lives. The Latino Community Foundation (LCF) estimates that only 17% of California’s 7 million eligible Latinos are likely to vote in this election.
Even in this extraordinary presidential election, only half of the state’s adults are expected to cast ballots. Those voters disproportionately represent older, white, college-educated, affluent, and home-owning populations, according to a Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) report. Nonvoters, meanwhile, tend to be younger, Latino, renters, less affluent, and less likely to be college-educated.
Levels of political participation do not reflect California’s changing demographics. The pool of likely California voters is 60% white, 18% Latino, 12% Asian, and 6% black, according to PPIC. Compare that to the breakdown of Californians who are eligible to vote but have not registered. Only 22% are white, while 59% are Latino, 14% are Asian, and 3% are black. Engagement in the most fundamental aspect of our democracy must become a cultural imperative for younger generations of Latinos.
Voters Do Not Reflect California’s Racial Diversity
As the report’s lead author, PPIC President Mark Baldassare, said in March, “It will have far-reaching consequences this fall, when issues as important as the minimum wage, school bonds, and the death penalty are likely to be on the ballot.”
Especially in a state dominated by ballot initiatives, the disparity in participation is a bulwark of persistent, structural economic inequality. Only action by the affected groups can improve the situation.
We know that reaching the goal of a larger, more diverse voting population will require:
Building confidence in elections and trust in government
Campaigning to increase civics education, voter registration, and voting in underrepresented communities
Taking steps to increase economic opportunity through high-paying jobs, affordable housing, and higher college graduation rates — factors that increase the likelihood a person will vote
Encouraging noncitizens to apply for citizenship and become participants in American democracy
LCF is running a multimedia and grassroots campaign aimed at reaching 1 million Latinos and registering 10,000 new Latino voters. I’m grateful for LCF’s important work and urge everyone in contact with the Latino community to draw attention to the need for broader participation.
Voting for Those Who Can’t
Aurora Anaya-Cerda summed it up well in her article in the LCF blog: “When we vote, we bring our community with us. Those of us who have the opportunity to vote must do so for the people in our lives who cannot yet cast a ballot.”
If you have friends or family who say they’re too busy or haven’t gotten around to fully participating in our democracy yet, take them to register. Talk to your children about the future you believe in. Help them understand that voting is a means to express your hopes, your values, and your opinions.
And on November 8, bring a child to witness you casting your ballot. She will see that voting is important, that it matters, and that we won’t let disparities in voter participation persist.
Dr. Sandra R. Hernández is president and CEO of the California Health Care Foundation. Prior to joining CHCF, Sandra was CEO of The San Francisco Foundation, which she led for 16 years. She previously served as director of public health for the City and County of San Francisco. She also co-chaired San Francisco’s Universal Healthcare Council, which designed Healthy San Francisco, an innovative health access program for the uninsured.
Sandra is an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine. She practiced at San Francisco General Hospital in the AIDS clinic from 1984 to 2016. She was appointed by Governor Jerry Brown to the Covered California board of directors in February 2018. She currently serves on the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing Advisory Council at UC Davis and the UC Regents Committee on Health Services. Sandra served on the External Advisory Committee at the Stanford Center for Population Health Sciences in 2016. Sandra is a graduate of Yale University, the Tufts School of Medicine, and the certificate program for senior executives in state and local government at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.