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Checking In With Minority Voting Bloc Organizers On Election Day

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(AP Photo/John Locher,File)

In this Oct. 30, 2020 file photo people prepare to vote at a polling place on the final day of early voting, in Las Vegas.

After a campaign year marked by a global pandemic, economic downturn, and social unrest, Election Day is finally here. 

 

It will be an election like no other. By the end of early voting, more Nevadans had already cast their ballot than the total number that did in the 2016 election. And today’s turnout is expected to be huge as well. 

 

Among the many people watching the results will be organizers who target Black, LatinX, LGBTQ+ and youth voters -- groups that, research suggests, may make a huge difference in today’s races.

​​Erika Washington is the executive director of Make It Work Nevada. It's a non-partisan group that works to advocate for Black women and other women of color.

She said that there are so many issues that directly affect that population. from affordable child care to minimum wage, that her group wanted to get their voices heard.

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"I think this year, as a whole, has brought to the top for so many folks, even folks that thought that they were doing well... found everything breaking underneath them because of a lack of good economic justice infrastructure," she said.

Washington said her group wants leaders that have first-hand knowledge of the ways many people are struggling with issues like paid sick leave and child care. 

They also want someone who takes action.

"Folks want someone that they can move," she said, "If someone is not advocating directly for issues that most concern them, they want someone who they think they can at least have the conversation with and teach them about why this issue is so important and hopefully then be able to move toward policies that will directly affect them. We just can't have folks who are not movable anymore."

Washington said her group has focused a lot on the school board race in Clark County. Education is extremely important, she said, and schools in the county have consistently ranked at or near the bottom in national rankings.

"I think now we have parents, especially now, they are almost shell-shocked at how the school district has been running," she said, "I think that ties back to not just the school board but also the State Legislature as well."

Washington said she has found a lot of people are very interested in how to make schools better in Nevada.

Overall, she expects Black women to come out and vote in this election, but she also expects that a lot of people will be pushing for accountability from their elected officials once they are in office.

Another important voting bloc in Nevada is the Latinx vote. John Tuman is a UNLV political science professor, who focuses on Latino and Hispanic voters.

He said the most recent polls show Latino voters favoring Democrat Joe Biden in the presidential race, and the numbers are even better for the candidate among Latino voters in Clark County.

Tuman believes that support could translate down-ballot.

"There tends to be a relationship between the top of the ticket and where we see," he said, "I think, in general, in this cycle as in prior cycles, you're going to see cohesive support among those who vote for Biden, supporting Democrats down the ticket."

Tuman said that the polling and surveys he's looked at show that many Latino voters place the blame for the coronavirus pandemic on how the Trump administration has responded to the problem.

He noted that many Latinos are frontline workers, and they work in the hospitality industry, meaning they understand first-hand the economic fallout from the pandemic.

Another important issue for Latinos, especially the younger generation, is immigration and DACA, deferred action for childhood arrivals, he said.

"The fact that the Trump administration has moved to end the DACA program. They care also about the president's very negative rhetoric sometimes on immigration and the lack of progress on immigration reform," he said.

In addition, Tuman said, many younger Latino voters side with the LGBTQ community when it comes to equality issues.

One of the fastest-growing minority populations in Southern Nevada is the Asian-American community. Duy Nguyen is president of One APIA Nevada. He said his community of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders could be a deciding factor in this election. 

"Asian American Pacific Islanders in Nevada make up about 11 percent of the electorate in the state," he said, "Asian women voters is also one of the fastest-growing decision-makers of the election."

Nguyen credits a push by the younger generation. He said many younger Asian Americans have started conversations with their older relatives about the election and issues impacting their community.

The top issue for that community, like most others, is the pandemic and its impact.

"Many of them now are in a situation where they can't see their loved ones," he said, "Of course, they're going to turn around see what the government is doing, what the federal government is doing, what the state government is doing. That definitely is now hitting their pockets. Now, they're paying attention a lot more."

Nguyen also said that there is a lot of excitement in his community about vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris, who is Black and Asian. 

"Now, they see someone who looks like them, that is part of their culture, part of their values that is on top of the ticket," he said.

In state races, Nguyen noted that after years of work there are now seven Asian Americans on the ballot in Nevada in state races and six of them are women. 

After talking to people in the Asian American Pacific Islander community since his group started making calls in March, Nguyen believes most back the Biden-Harris ticket.

He said some of the comments President Donald Trump made about the coronavirus being the "Chinese virus" or the "kung flu" has turned off Asian American voters.

A bloc of voters that seems to be a lot more engaged this year isn't an ethnic or racial minority, instead, it is the younger voters that seem to be interested in casting their ballots. 

Mark Riffenburg is the director of NextGen Nevada, which has a mission to organize young people to vote.

"I think that young people, particularly in Nevada, are one of the fastest-growing voting blocs in the country," Riffenburg said. "They are some of the most progressive, compassionate voters, I think, that exist right now."

He said there's been an awakening among young voters that he hopes leads to a large turnout this year. Riffenburg said the voting so far shows young voters are close behind older demographics in casting ballots.

"I think that there are a lot of issues facing the entire country as a whole that are particularly magnified when it comes to how they impact young voters," he said. 

As an example, he cited the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the economy. He also pointed to the problem of student loan debt as something young people understand and want to be solved.

However, when it comes to the presidential election, Riffenburg believes the character of the candidates plays an important role.

"I think beyond Joe Biden as a candidate, or any of these State Assembly or Senate candidates, young people understand that the tenor and the tone of politics of the last four years is something that is unsustainable and it's not the country they want to live in," he said.

Riffenburg also said that many young voters are fired up about issues of discrimination that have surfaced in the past few years.

Rob Schlegel is the publisher of the "Las Vegas Spectrum," which puts out a voter guide focused on LGBTQ issues. 

One of his community's biggest concerns is discrimination that is still codified in the Nevada Constitution. Ballot Question 2 addresses marriage equality. If approved, it would take out language that designates marriage as only between one man and one woman.

"It's insulting to have stated in the Nevada Constitution the discrimination against same-gender marriages is okay, and that's what our constitution says," Schlegel said, "Our constitution upholds discrimination. And even though that has been overruled by a Supreme Court ruling back in 2014 and early 2015 -- two different rulings -- it still has the language in the Nevada Constitution and it should not be there."

Schlegel is also concerned because the Supreme Court is now a conservative majority, and if the issue of same-gender marriage comes before the court again, it could be overturned.

However, if Nevadans vote to remove the language in the state, same-gender marriages here will be protected.

Besides issues specific to his community, Schlegel believes it is vital for groups representing minority groups of all kinds to join together to amplify their voices.

"There are so many different groups that the LGBTQ community is a part of, and so, we're all pushing for people to be out and to vote so it's not just my organization or my voter guide or anybody else's," he sais. "We're all part of the overall community. We're interested in progressive issues and we're planning to vote. We have voted. We are voting." 

Guests

Mark Riffenburg, Director, NextGen Nevada; Rob Schlegel, publisher, Las Vegas Spectrum​; John Tuman, UNLV political science professor and Associate Dean for Faculty, College of Liberal Arts; ​​Erika Washington, executive director, Make It Work Nevada; Duy Nguyen, President, One APIA Nevada

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