Inside One Group's Fight To Turn Out Latino Voters And Stop Trump

Charles Rex Arbogast

LAS VEGAS – When 19-year-old Miriam Cadenas knocks doors in North Las Vegas, she will occasionally let the Hispanic voters she's meeting in on a little secret.

“I’m doing this because I can’t vote," Cadenas tells them. "My voice is pretty silent right now, but my voice is protected through you so if I get you to go out to vote and vote for the right people then I might not lose my DACA and I could be less scared of my future and the future of my family.”

Cadenas is a DREAMer, an immigrant who walked across the border illegally when she was 8 years old and can't vote in the upcoming election. She has DACA, a special status that allows her to work and live without immediate fear of deportation, and a list of voters who she's trying to convince to vote for Hillary Clinton.

At 19, she is a soft-spoken and determined paid canvasser for the Immigrant Voters Win super PAC, a new group that's entire objective in 2016 is turning out low-frequency Hispanic voters that other campaigns might usually ignore because they don't reliably show up to the polls.

“We know that among the immigrant community, one of the biggest obstacles is not that they don’t want to vote. It’s that sometimes they’re intimidated by all the different questions and oftentimes because they feel they are not prepared, they leave it to the last minute and they end up not voting," Francisco Morales, the Nevada director for the PAC, told TPM. "We’re making sure they know all the candidates, they know where to go vote. We just make it as easy as possible.”

The voters the PAC is targeting include younger Hispanics, newer citizens and monolingual Spanish speakers, who will make the difference this year in the state's razor-close presidential contest and top-tier Senate race between Rep. Joe Heck and Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, who is running to be the first Latina elected to the U.S. Senate.

The super PAC is part of an effort being funded heavily by Hungarian billionaire George Soros to mobilizing the Latino vote this cycle and invest on a demographic that has sometimes been left behind in terms of spending. According to the New York Times, Soros invested $5 million of his own money into the $15 million project as it became increasingly clear that Trump's rhetoric might put Democrats in their most advantageous position yet to expand their Latino voter outreach.

Hispanic voters could be the ballgame in Nevada. They account for 17 percent of the electorate here and were instrumental in delivering President Barack Obama victories in both 2008 and 2012. In 2010, Latino voters helped re-elect Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) in his re-election against Sharron Angle, who tried to paint Reid as lax on border security,

"It just pissed off the Hispanic communities. They got mad," Reid said. “So I won the election for a number of reasons, but that was one of the major reasons because they turned out. They proved not only in Nevada, but around the country that the Hispanic vote can mean something.”

That is exactly what the Immigrant Voter Project is counting on. Not only is the group hoping to elect Democrats, they are hoping the power of the Hispanic vote will be strong enough in key swing states to finally convince Republicans in Congress it's time to move forward with comprehensive immigration reform.

"To have a real shot at CIR, we have to elect the right candidates and we need to be able to say we won the election because of the immigrant vote," Morales said.

The multi-million dollar PAC is working in Nevada, Florida and Colorado against the backdrop of an unprecedented presidential election where Republican nominee Donald Trump has disparaged Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals, assailed a federal judge for his "Mexican" heritage and made a grim habit of spotlighting families whose loved ones have been killed by undocumented immigrants at his press conferences and rallies,

And yet, the race is still incredibly close. TPM's PollTracker Average shows Trump is up 2 percentage points in the state with just a week to go before the election.

Latino voter outreach groups are very familiar with what can happen when the the Hispanic electorate stays home. In 2014, Latino turnout dropped off in Nevada and Republicans won every statewide race in the state and both houses of the legislature.

Using a tablet equipped with VAN, a voter canvassing app that helps target voters by seeing their voting histories and background, Cadenas is one of 60-100 paid canvassers knocking doors for Immigrant Voters Win on a given day.

It's not uncommon for the group to make contact with the same voter upwards of six times to ensure he or she makes good on a pledge to turn out to vote. In fact, that's the goal. Using their voter outreach technology, the PAC knows what religion a potential voter might be, whether they have kids, they're propensity for voting and other market research data points. They use Hustle, a peer-to-peer texting technology, to keep in touch with voters they've met and spoken with.

The PAC is part voter education, part social pressure all aimed to ensure Latino voters don't stay home on Election Day.

"If you are a frequent voter, I'm gonna tell you, 'My records indicate you’re a reliable voter, the community is trusting you to go and vote so please do so,'" Morales said. "If you’re an infrequent voter, we tell them, ‘Hey, we know you’ve missed out on a few elections, your neighbors has been responding with great success and remember whether you vote or not is public."

As she knocked doors, Cadenas encountered 25-year-old Kenneth Ortiz. Slow to open the door, Ortiz told Cadenas he'd been contacted a few times in the last month.

“We see that somebody came and talked to you before and you said you were a strong supporter for Hillary Clinton and Catherine Cortez Masto. Can we still count on your vote," Cadenas asked.

Ortiz said she could although with a broken leg, he told her, it had been hard to get out of the house much.

She handed him a flyer with information for an early-vote fiesta that was coming up Saturday. She reminded him that voting early could prevent him from having to stand in line on Election Day and added, "I am really glad you are going to get out to vote in this election. It’s very important."

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