Voto Latino, a non-partisan organization, uses a range of social media tools like Facebook and iTunes to augment celebrity and community activism to encourage voting participation among young Latino citizens. The organization is a founding member of a coalition, now boasting over 1,000 partners, promoting September 25 as National Voter Registration Day, according to Dan McSwain, a Voto Latino representative.
"National Voter Registration Day seeks to do for democracy what Earth Day, for example, has done for the environment," McSwain said, "which is to have a day on the calendar that's recognized widely, nationally, that creates a day of action where people from all walks of life, from any race, creed or background, and, particularly important in this instance, is, of any political persuasion, to come together and recognize, to make our voices heard in November, we have to register in September."
McSwain, who spoke at a media teleconference briefing sponsored by New America Media and the Brennan Center for Justice, explained that the date September 25 was chosen because it's far enough in front of all of the states' voter registration deadlines which vary from state to state.
The concept of a national day to promote voter registration received a key endorsement from the National Association of Secretaries of State at its annual meeting in July. NASS, which represents the key state election officials responsible for overseeing the implementation of voting in their respective states, passed a resolution recognizing National Voter Registration "in accordance with our observation of September as National Voter Registration Month."
The NASS resolution notwithstanding, Myrna Perez, senior counsel for the Democracy Project at the Brennan Center, who also joined the briefing, noted that "over the past two years, elected officials have tried to manipulate the voting system in order to make it harder for some eligible Americans to participate in our democracy and in our elections." She cited a few examples of those efforts, such as the limiting of early and same day voting in some states as well as legislative efforts to curtail registration drives conducted by non-partisan organizations like the League of Women Voters.
Perez estimated that over 50 million eligible Americans are not registered to vote and McSwain pointed out that possibly as many as 6 million eligible Americans have said they would have registered to vote had they been aware of the registration deadline in their state.
Voto Latino estimates that it has reached 55 million Latino households since its founding in 2004, increased Latino participation in the 2010 Census and registered 120,000 young Latino voters. McSwain said the organization's guiding principle is "to reach young voters where they are and to speak with them not at them." To that end, for example, he described a leadership training event this summer in Los Angeles that brought together 300 young Latino community activists from 18 states. McSwain said this kind of grassroots organizing is as critical to the organization's success as the more visible celebrity and media endorsements and participation for which it is becoming well known.
The organization is supported by foundations but also has corporate support. In 2008, "the best partnership Apple and iTunes had with a non-profit that year" was with Voto Latino, McSwain said, which distributed a free iTunes music sampler for those who chose to be affiliated with the organization's e-mail list and outreach efforts.
That effort is being replicated again this year and McSwain explained that its field staff is well-trained and honors all state laws governing promotional efforts as they relate to voter registration and election laws. Voto Latino works with artists to be in compliance with copyright laws but what is exciting, he said is that "artists have actively sought Voto Latino out as a way to get involved with their fans and with their communities." He said the artists comprise big name general audience musicians in addition to those well known in the Latino community. "It means the world to us that those artists are willing to work with Voto Latino and it's something we really cherish."