GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — People in the Hispanic community have a number of barriers when it comes to voting, but there’s a nonprofit in West Michigan that’s working to overcome some of them.
The Hispanic Center of Western Michigan is working on several initiatives to get more people in the Hispanic community out to the polls come November.
“Voting is one of the most basic things that we can do to really make a difference,” said Holly Rea Clarkson, the center’s language and workforce development manager.
Clarkson said with everything that’s happening in the political world, including misinformation, there is more distrust in the voting process. That can often lead Hispanic voters to believe it’s too complicated or confusing to cast a ballot.
“We just consistently see the Hispanic voice left out of the conversation, but they are usually one of the first ones to be affected by the decisions and so we really wanted to put our voice forward. We really wanted to take a stance. But being a 501(c)(3), we have to be careful kind of on what stand that is,” she explained.
Clarkson and her team decided to start with voter education, easing access to resources and trying to simplify the process of getting registered and finding polling places.
“Of course, with everything that we do, we try to bring in language access,” Clarkson said. “…We see that as a huge barrier to the elections, whether it’s primary, general elections for large elections such as for president or the smaller elections for this year.”
For National Voter Registration Day, the Hispanic Center launched a voter registration hotline. Clarkson said it is also working to translate ballots and candidate information, which will be shared throughout the state. In addition, it is starting to recruit bilingual poll workers.
“We are working with the Grand Rapids city clerk and so he has identified 13 precincts where he would like to have at least one to two bilingual poll workers because that’s where the highest level of Hispanic population is,” she said.
While Clarkson and her team are doing as much as they can, she said it’s a collaborative effort, with the goal of making sure everyone knows their voice matters.
“We try to really have authentic conversations with (Hispanic people) to see kind of what has changed, what are their opinions, what are their struggles, so that we can really break down those barriers and still help them,” Clarkson said.