Hispanic Liaison, youth volunteers assist Latinx voters


SILER CITY — Hispanic Liaison’s office is dedicated to helping the Latinx population in Siler City in any way possible, especially when it comes to helping Spanish-speaking residents at the polls.

In partnership with volunteers from the Orgullo Latinx Pride Youth Program (OLP), the Hispanic Liaison’s office had tables at each Siler City voting precinct through the voting period in Chatham County with translated election materials and interpreters for voters who needed them.

“A lot of times, our community turns away from voting just because either they don’t understand or they don’t have enough information,” Hispanic Liaison Program Assistant Noemi Mora said. “It’s kind of nice to have pamphlets to read about people who are running and also read them their ballots so they’re able to vote and know what they are voting for.”

Voter intimidation became a concern across the country after misinformation surrounding the 2020 presidential election led to several instances of harassment, including 21 cases being investigated in North Carolina for this year’s election cycle.

“We just want to make sure the whole process is fair and things are flowing like they’re supposed to,” said Hannia Benitez, the Liasion’s deputy director. “Making sure there’s no intimidation, people stay out of the buffer zone, simple things like that.”

OLP is a free, year-round after-school program for Latinx youth in Siler City that gives young adults a chance to volunteer at Liaison events such as the table at the polls.

OLP Principal Representative Andres Alvarado, a junior at Jordan-Matthews High School, said it was important to volunteer at the polls because he wanted to make sure Hispanic residents felt comfortable voting on Election Day.

“This makes it fair,” Alvarado said. “They’ll know what they’re doing when they go to vote — they’re not just doing it just to do it.”

OLP member Fatima Herrera was also volunteering at the polls on Election Day. She said as the first member of her family to be born in the U.S., she feels participating in the democratic process of voting is something important to do.

“This helps open your eyes and see things in a different way,” Herrera said. “It helps you to see the world and how things, like voting, work.”

A factor that may stray some Latinx voters from going to the polls is the language barrier, Benitez said. The Hispanic Liaison created a translated ballot for those who wanted one, so that way when non-English speaking voters go to fill out their ballot, they can see who they are voting for.

“That way the voter can either take it in and know whether they’re voting for a judge or voting for a commissioner,” Benitez said. “If they need an interpreter, Illana (the Hispanic Liaison Director) and myself are going in.”

Latinx voters, among other voters of color, are among the most likely to be turned away from the precincts, according to a 2018 poll from the Public Religion Research Institute in 2018. Out of all the voters who were surveyed, 10% of Blacks and 11% of Latinx voters said they’d been incorrectly told they weren’t on the voter rolls, which is double what white voters reported at 5%.

Benitez said because of this inequity in voting, she felt it was important for volunteers who know the reality of these scenarios to be there to help mitigate any issues.

“If someone gets turned away for whatever reason, we just want to make sure if they’re registered … and figure out where they can vote,” she said. “We really want to make sure that if they have the right to vote, they can go and cast their vote.”

For the young volunteers, working the precincts allowed them to learn hands-on what Election Day entails.

OLP coordinator Kenia Urive said as a first-generation American, she never went with her parents to precincts or saw the process in person. For Urive, a J-M Junior, she said volunteering with OLP on Election Day helped her to understand the process she had heard about in school.

“My parents don’t vote, so when I heard about the voting process, I (thought) I don’t really have to care because … my parents didn’t do it, so like, how am I going to do this,” Urive said. “Now, I know there’s a process and I know I need to get to know this.”

For Urive, volunteering at the polls helped her to realize the importance of the ballot box, and she encourages others her age to consider giving their time to help others at the precincts.

“I take it back to my parents because I feel like if they could have voted, there would be people like us here to help them out,” she said. “I feel like I’m more confident to go vote once I turn 18.”

Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at theeden@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @HeedenTaylor.