The closing days of the 2022 midterm elections came with a deluge of commentary suggesting that Latino voters were abandoning Democrats for the GOP. But now that the votes have been counted and the winners have been declared, it’s clear that these predictions were flat out wrong. Across the country, Latino voters showed up and did their part to prevent the predicted “red wave.” Given that some of the candidates on the ballot were election deniers and Jan. 6 supporters, it’s no exaggeration to credit these Latino voters with saving democracy. But now is no time for Democrats to get complacent — 2024 is just around the corner.
Setting aside Democrats’ uniformly dismal performance in Florida, the overarching story of November 2022 was one in which Latino voters — in particular those in the southwestern states of Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, also known as the Brown Belt — played a critical role in electing Democrats in key races.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), the nation’s first and only Latina senator, credited Latino voters for her victory and offered some advice: “What I know about our community is that they want to know you’re on their side. They want to engage all the time. You can’t just show up at the last minute. They want to know that you’re there and you understand the issues and that you can fight for them.”
In her campaign, Cortez Masto practiced what she preached. She showed up for Latino voters — and they showed up for her. But she can’t do it alone. No candidate can. That’s why the organization I lead, Voto Latino, invested time, effort and resources into targeting low-propensity voters in Nevada who needed consistent, strategic and culturally competent engagement to turn out before or on Election Day.
We also showed up to do the work in Arizona, targeting over 400,000 new and low-propensity voters with digital ads, mail, peer-to-peer text messages and more. As a result of our deep partnerships with on-the-ground groups in the state, we were ready to act when armed vigilantes began menacing voters at polling places. Our firsthand knowledge enabled us to go to court immediately to ask that voters be free from intimidation while voting. Similarly, our presence in Latino communities in Colorado is what alerted us to transphobic advertisements financed by former President Donald Trump’s advisor, Stephen Miller, that targeted Spanish speakers and enabled us to push back with the facts in real time.
The clearest lesson from 2022 is to start today and invest in long-term engagement with Latino voters. The numbers make clear that Voto Latino’s sustained investment in Latino communities paid off. But like all organizing, sustained investment and work — not just hope — are required. We can’t take 2022 for granted. In states like Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and soon in Texas, Latino youth — who are by default considered low-propensity voters — are the largest share of the Latino vote overall. By 2024, 800,000 young people will turn 18 in Texas and 163,000 in Arizona, respectively. President Joe Biden won Arizona by fewer than 12,000 votes. The time to build the base and prepare for 2024 starts on Jan. 1, 2023.
We also saw the importance of engaging young voters. As the Pew Research Center documented, young Latino registered voters are more likely than older Latino registered voters to vote for Democratic candidates. Furthermore, because Latinos are among the youngest and fastest growing racial and ethnic groups in the country (with a median age of 30), reaching Latino voters requires us to connect with the nation’s youth. Though election researchers and analysts are still crunching the data on the 2022 youth vote and how it compared to other election cycles, one thing is clear: The younger and more diverse generation of voters favors Democrats by a wider margin than their parents and grandparents. In fact, 64% of Latino youth voted Democratic this past election. This is Voto Latino’s core constituency where we register and turn out young Latino voters at scale.
The evidence is clear: Democrats need to make an investment in the youth vote a central part of our plans for the next cycle. This means meeting young people where they are and addressing their priorities: climate justice, reproductive freedom and safety from gun violence. In 2022, instead of running away from issues that mattered most to young people, Democrats embraced them proudly. After years of playing defense on abortion, Democratic candidates saw the power in aggressively campaigning on the issue. For Latino youth, immigration reform is tied second to abortion care. Why? Because 16 million Americans — mostly Latino youth — live in mixed status families where family members have varying legal statuses for U.S. citizenship. Protecting their loved ones is a top priority and the very reason they started voting in the first place. Members of Congress should heed young voters’ concerns if they hope to win again in 2024.
Finally, the fight against voter suppression is urgent. While the GOP of former Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) may have reacted to bad election results by competing harder for the votes of Latinos and young people, today’s MAGA brand of politicians have made it clear that instead of appealing to new audiences, they’ll simply try to keep their critics from the voting booth. We know all too well that Latinos and other voters of color bear the brunt of efforts to restrict access to the ballot — whether it comes in the form of extreme gerrymanders, onerous voter ID laws or efforts to make the logistics of voting more difficult.
Congress could — and should — step in to preserve ballot access. Unfortunately, given the divided nature of our politics, it seems more likely that in 2024 democracy itself will once again be on the ballot.
Together, Latinos and young people sent a clear message in 2022 that they have the power to play a decisive role in building a future that rejects the bigotry and cruelty of Trump and his ideological allies. If we want to unleash that power, we need to treat those critical electoral blocks with the respect and seriousness they deserve.
Maria Teresa Kumar is the president and CEO of Voto Latino.