Latinos get out the vote in Wisconsin

With the state's Latino population growing, groups on both sides of the aisle are working to woo potential voters

By Diego Ramos Bechara, special to News 3 Now

MILWAUKEE — “El Voto Latino Decidirá,” the Latino vote will decide. This chant echoed across Milwaukee’s south side.

“We want people who’ll support us, won’t discriminate against us, and we want to cause change,” said Samanta Cardona, a voter from Milwaukee who moved from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.

Historic West Mitchell Street, in the south of Downtown Milwaukee, is a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood. There, Latino voters, young and old, want to make their voices heard in the midterm elections. Amid speeches and testimony from volunteers for Voces de la Frontera Action, Fernanda Jimenez compelled voters to register to vote and “make your voices heard.”

The rallying issue, immigration—something echoed by Deisy España and Maria Magdalena, two voters from Milwaukee.

Christine Neumann-Ortiz is Voces de la Frontera Action’s executive director, a progressive group working to mobilize Latino voters: “Our allegiance is to the dreamers, to the essential workers, to the Latino people of color, working class, people of all backgrounds,” she said.

She endorses Democrat Mandela Barnes for the U.S. Senate.

“Senator Ron Johnson is someone who has been standing in the way of immigration reform, the DREAM Act and the Promise Act,” she said. “He’s been consistently voting against those.”

According to Neumann-Ortiz, Barnes has a “strong record of supporting immigrant rights.” She referenced his term in the state legislature, and his time as lieutenant governor, as moments defined by strong support for immigration—with his platform right now supporting immigration reform with a path to citizenship for 11 million.

Wisconsin’s Latino population is growing. State data shows they’ve grown by 46.8% since the 2000 Census, a rate nearly 10 times faster than the state’s overall population. In 2020, Latinos, for the first time, were Wisconsin’s largest minority group, making up 7.1% of the population, something that has left Republicans and Democrats alike vying for their vote.

Helder Toste is the founder of Operación Vamos, an outreach initiative sponsored by the National Republican Senatorial Committee to turn out Latino voters in key battleground states.

“Voters want to be listened to, they want to be heard, they want to feel they have a voice. And so for me, it means saying, ‘Hi, how was your day? Is the country heading in the right direction? Or the wrong direction?’ The answer is very often in the wrong direction,” he said. He went on to say, “Hispanic issues are American issues. They’re worried about what everyone else is worried about. They’re worried about, can they feed their families? Is their job good? Are they safe?”

For Toste, that means supporting incumbent Republican Senator Ron Johnson.

“Whether you’re Democrat and Republican, your bottom dollar has been affected,” said Mario Herrera, a Republican voter from Waukesha. “When you have to maintain a family, when you have to put food on the table, that’s what’s going to get you to vote in this election cycle.”

But the overarching goal of Operación and Voces is to increase Latino voter turnout, something both Toste and Neumann-Ortiz say would help to shine a spotlight on the population.

“The Latino vote is decisive,” said Neumann-Ortiz. Toste echoed this by saying that he does what he does because, “I care a lot about the Hispanic community. I think we need more representation, we need more involvement with both parties.”

However, the work on the ground in Milwaukee is far from over. According to a Pew research study, only about 40% of Hispanics cast a ballot in the last midterm elections, out of a total eligible population of 183,000—a turnout lower than both eligible white and Black voters.

We’ll have to wait and see if the Latino voting block has become a force to be reckoned with come Tuesday’s elections.