Job losses, fear of virus complicate Latino voter hopes

Full Screen
1 / 5

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Wearing a face covering and face shield while working amid the coronavirus, Maico Olivares, lead voter registration organizer for Central Arizonans for a Sustainable Economy, works his phone and computer as he tries to reach about 25 people a day, mostly within the Latino community, to persuade them to register to vote Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020, in Phoenix. Like others who register people to vote, those efforts have become extremely difficult during the pandemic. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP) – Every day, 29-year-old Maico Olivares tries to call about 25 people, mostly within the Latino community, to persuade them to register to vote.

Some calls go well, but increasingly, they have become frustrating: Many of the people Olivares reaches are out of work or have lost wages because of coronavirus-related business restrictions and closures. These days, they're more focused on feeding their family than getting ready for the November election.

Olivares shares concerns with Latino advocates around the country who worry that the virus’ effect on Latinos, who have seen high rates of infection and unemployment, will keep them from the polls this year.

“Their main concern is money and food. Their main concern isn’t voting right now,” said Olivares, lead voter registration organizer for Central Arizonans for a Sustainable Economy, a grassroots organization focused on civic engagement and social justice.

His group is registering a fraction of the people it was before the pandemic, when it could set up outside grocery stores and public events. Its goal was to collect 40,000 voter registration forms this year, but so far has collected just 7,000 — most of them before the pandemic. That's compared to over 30,000 in 2018 and 20,000 in 2016.

Olivares said he has to get personal when he pleads with people to register, telling them about his own upbringing as a first-generation American and a father.

“It can be very emotional at times because you’re dealing with people who are hit the hardest right now,” Olivares said.

Data compiled by the The Center for Election Innovation and Research in early June shows overall voter registration in April was about 70% lower in 11 states and the District of Columbia than it was four years before, during the last presidential election.