Intent on luring more Latino millennials to the polls, groups turn to smartphone technology
Voter turnout is especially crucial for young Latinos in America, a growing demographic with the potential to sway the outcome of this year’s presidential election.
But this group has long lagged at the polls, prompting countless efforts to lure more to engage in the political process. Some organizations have turned to smartphone technology, developing applications geared specifically to entice Latinos in their 20s and 30s to cast ballots.
Some apps simply teach young voters how and where to vote, while others let users register using a feature that scans identification cards. One freshly launched app called Unidos goes a step further, culling news stories that highlight the lives of immigrants in the United States.
Developed by John Rudolph, the executive producer of a nonprofit public radio and news website that also focuses on immigrants, the app went live in June.
“We have this group of young Latinos who could be a force in the general elections, and where are they getting their information? Smartphones,” Rudolph said. “So let’s meet them on their phones so they can have full participation in the Democratic process.”
Latino millennials between the ages of 18 and 35 years old make up 44 percent of eligible Hispanic voters, according to the Pew Research Center. That makes that share of millennials the largest compared to any other ethnic or racial voting group. By comparison, 35 percent of eligible African-American voters are millennials today, while 30 percent are millennials among Asians and only 27 percent among whites.
But in the 2014 midterm election, voter turnout among Latinos was 27 percent, making it the lowest rate ever recorded for Hispanics in a midterm race.
Rudolph says he developed Unidos because he doesn’t want the same pattern this November.
Unidos, which is available for download on iPhones, aims to help Latinos get a better understanding of the political process. After downloading, the bilingual app first asks users to answer questions regarding location, background and issues of concern. The home page displays a personalized news feed based on the user’s answers. The app also features customized emojis with encouraging messages about voting in English and Spanish, which users can share with family and friends.
“We feel like the best thing we can do is just point people in the right direction, giving them resources to register to vote and find places nearby to vote,” Rudolph said. “And we also give them guides on what to do if they face problems at the polls dealing with their social identities.”
Camille Padilla, an avid fan of the app, said Unidos is a good way to encourage involvement in the elections. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, she moved to New York for college just over three years ago and said she has increasingly gained interest in politics.
“I feel like a lot of mainstream media is made for a white consumer,” said Padilla, 25. “So I like the feeling that this app is for (Latinos). The app wants us to know more about politics or things that are affecting our social group, and there’s not enough resources like that.”
She’s hopeful the app will gain popularity — she tweeted about Unidos hoping to spread the word about the app to her followers.
“The only thing that concerns me about Unidos is that not enough people know about the app, so the (team’s) next step needs to be how to market it,” Padilla said. “They won’t be achieving their goal fully if they’re not reaching out to all the target users.”
Rudolph and his team are spreading the word via social media.
“We are looking for Latino college students from around the country who can agree to help promote the app,” Rudolph said. “We plan to have the ambassadors set a goal of having full participation of young Latinos on Unidos from their campus — whether that’d be by reaching out to organizations, Greeks or fraternities.”
By November, they hope more Latino users will participate in Unidos — and eagerly cast their ballot.