Only 43% of Latinos in Wichita’s congressional district are eligible to vote. They may face more barriers than other voters.
By Stefania Lugli
The Latino and Hispanic population in Sedgwick County, the city of Wichita and Kansas at-large is growing. With that increased population share comes an increased power: the right to sway change via ballot.
In 2020, people identifying as Latino or Hispanic became the nation’s largest racial or ethnic minority in a U.S. presidential election, gathering a record 32 million of eligible voters.
To vote is to exercise a democratic right. But there are countless examples of institutions and politicians dedicated towards making voting more difficult.
Take Kansas circa 2018, when a judge rejected then-Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s law to require people to prove their U.S. citizenship before they could vote. The judge declared the election law unconstitutional, quickly dismantling the 2013 law that forced Kansans to produce documents proving their U.S. citizenship.
“It was really a ‘papers, please,’ requirement that managed to combine anti-voting rights sentiment and anti-immigrant xenophobia that disproportionately targeted Latinx voters,” Micah Kubic, the executive director of ACLU Kansas said in an interview with Planeta Venus.
Just this past August for the primary election, Sedgwick County voters reported shockingly long lines at several polling stations, including precincts where there was a significant population of minority voters.
As Kansas creeps closer to Midterms, questions arise: are Spanish-speaking voters being engaged on the same level as English speakers? Will Wichita see a second consecutive election with unusually high turnout? What do 2022’s elections mean for the future of voting?
To Kubic, he sums it up as such: “You’re going to see really high turnout in Kansas, especially among those populations that are the most vulnerable and targeted by extremists. (People) are responding and voting like their rights depend on it. Because they do.”
A history of deception, exclusion, and inaccessibility
According to data from the Pew Research Center, in Kansas, 7.1% of the eligible voter population is Latino (150,000 Latinos out of a total 2,100,000 Kansans, and a total of 348,000 Latinos in Kansas).
Wichita resides within Kansas’s 4th congressional district, where 7.6% of the eligible voter population is Latino (39,000 out of 516,000). The congressional district encompasses Wichita, three universities, Arkansas City, and the state’s only national airport.
Amongst Latinos in the district, only 43% are eligible to vote. That’s the second-lowest number of eligible Latino voters by district in Kansas.
In 2018, a group of Spanish-speaking women in Wichita gathered to participate in a voter training session at the Peace and Social Justice Center to pass their electoral knowledge to other members of the community.
Guadalupe Tello was one of those women. She moved to Wichita from Mexico in 2001 with her children to join her parents who had settled in the city.
When attending community workshops, Tello said she realized how deep of a need there was for electoral accessibility.
“I think us Hispanics feel insecure about voting. For one, we don’t know much about who to vote for. We just don’t have the information,” Tello said in an interview with Planeta Venus.
With an absence of information, Hispanic and Latino voters — especially those that do not speak English — are vulnerable to confusing messaging. Many informational tactics lack Spanish translation, and others have a history of promoting falsehoods to deliberately discept voters.
An analysis from New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice said that Latino voters are at high risk for misinformation in this fall’s midterm elections.
“Latinos are the largest share of the nation’s newly registered voters and the target for restrictive laws that aim to curb their rising voting power,” a statement from the Center said. “When the demand for information eclipses its supply, the gaps that follow can enable misinformation to take root and flourish.”
Kubic, the executive director of ACLU Kansas, said that while there are intentionally manipulative messaging targeting Latino voters, sometimes the information gap is at the fault of election administrators.
“Folks should be able to register to vote and have information about voting communicated to them in their language of their choice or their first language,” he said. “A number of Kansans eligible to vote have Spanish as their first language. We should do a better job of making sure that basic information on exercising your rights is available in Spanish.”
Janice Bradley, who used to work at Wichita’s Peace and Social Justice Center, helped organize the Spanish-speaking trainings in 2018. She said the Center was granted money from the Kansas Health Foundation to encourage civic engagement.
“There was also a movement around that time for women to get their children, who were American citizens, to vote — even if they weren’t citizens themselves,” Bradley said. “They did an amazing job helping people to register to vote.”
Planeta Venus requested voter registration data from the Sedgwick County Election Office broken down by race and ethnicity in the past five years but was informed that the office does not track this. On their website, there is voter registration data available for gender and age groups.
‘It’s not just about shutting off their right to vote … it’s casting people out’
Tello, increasingly aware after her electoral training, began taking stock of her family’s absent voting record, noticing that her parents, siblings, and cousins never filled out a ballot.
“I just thought to myself, ‘What’s happening here?” she said.
Tello and her sister first requested ballots for her parents to teach them how to vote. She said that despite her not speaking English, she understood how to work the ballot better than her parents could.
Then she turned her personal organizing to her workplace, where she realized that there was another barrier beyond language or information: transportation.
“At my job, there were people who said they wouldn’t vote because they didn’t have a way to get (to the polls),” Tello said. She was shocked to realize that something seemingly simple as transportation was a serious obstacle for others. So, Tello took it upon herself to enlist her brothers to facilitate rides to and from to the polls.
“I stay on top of my family: asking if they have voted, are they going to vote, if they requested a ballot yet, if there is anything they need. It’s what I can do,” she said. “If you need a ride to vote, or need information on how to fill out a ballot… It’s better to ask for help than not vote.”
Voting rights directly reflect the health of a democracy, according to Kubic. Democracy should mean that every person within a community has a voice and can be a part of something bigger than themselves.
“All of these things that make it harder for Latinx voters and Spanish-speaking Kansas to participate… it’s not just about shutting off their right to vote. It’s about excluding them from the broader community,” he said.
“It’s casting people out. It’s absolutely inexcusable.”
Are you witnessing anything concerning while voting? You can call the ACLU Kansas Election Protection Hotline to report it. Voters with any issues registering to vote, voting early or by mail, or voting on Election Day, can call the ACLU for them to investigate.
ENGLISH 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683)
SPANISH 888-VE-Y-VOTA (888-839-8682)
This Democracy Day story was produced as part of the Wichita Journalism Collaborative, a partnership of 10 media companies and community groups, including Planeta Venus, working together to bring timely and accurate news and information to Kansans. Democracy Day is a nationwide collaboration to draw attention to the threats facing U.S. democracy, provide the public with the context and information they need, and bring all types of media together to sound the alarm collectively.