Model Citizens: Rosario Dawson and María Teresa Kumar On Why Your Vote Counts
Since 2004, Voto Latino has educated and empowered a younger generation of Latinx voters to get involved in our collective political future. In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, The Real Real is proud to support the grassroots organization’s ongoing work to make our democracy more inclusive with a collaboration with Fashion Our Future.
Voto Latino CEO and President, María Teresa Kumar and Co-Founder Rosario Dawson tell TRR all the reasons why and the ways to vote and make our voices heard. Because as Maria Teresa Kumar says, your influence can make a difference. Learn more and get involved at votolatino.org
Tell us about Voto Latino?
Rosario Dawson: I have always wanted to make an impact and nurture the leader full moment I know that we are in. Voto Latino has been my guiding light. It is a year round organization that has leveraged technology and influencers to spread vital empowering information to communities countrywide for 16 years online and in person. From voter texting technology, our VoterPal app, cofounding National Voter Registration Day and more, we are nearing 1 million registered voters and know that we are just getting started!
María Teresa Kumar: We started Voto Latino 16 years ago and, at the time, it was just a handful of PSA’s that Rosario Dawson handed me with no budget, no salary. It has since evolved into a well-oiled voter registration machine, registering over 500,321 voters in 2020 alone.
Do you remember the first time you voted?
Rosario Dawson: Yes and it was a liberating and easy experience. I had often gone with my mom when she voted or spoke with my grandma about why she always voted but I didn’t become a lifelong voter myself until 2004 when I registered myself and co-founded Voto Latino. Registering and voting brought to life suffrage and civil rights movements as I became a part of those groups that said exercising our hard- fought rights marked our stand in history. I had long since been an activist and advocate and had now finally fully appreciated that voting was the umbrella under which all of the things I cared about and was fighting for could be voiced and acted upon.
María Teresa Kumar: The first time I voted was in 1992 for Bill Clinton. I couldn’t have been prouder to vote. It was on my college campus and, in fact, I still have my ballot stub.
There are certain folks who think that if their state is leaning one way or the other, that their vote doesn’t count, what do you say to them?
Rosario Dawson: 100 million registered voters didn’t vote in the last presidential election. I imagine many of them felt like there wasn’t any point. That has meant that we are being dictated to by the minority who are deciding what our access, rights, laws and taxes will be and what they will be used for.
The 2018 midterms were a game changer. Because so many new voters enrolled and so many registered voters exercised their rights we saw historical changes in the House Of Representatives that passed many pieces of (bi-partisan) legislation that could improve the lives of so many if they were enacted into law. We now have the same opportunity to better the Senate: to get more women and people of color in office people who could actually bring to vote legislation passed in the House that could be signed into law by our next President. All of this to say that norms are broken all of the time by people like you who decide not to sit this one out but instead affect change.
María Teresa Kumar: Regardless of whether your state is leaning one way or another, you’re still voting for state-wide offices and local positions. Those can have a more direct impact on your daily life than the president, so even if you feel like your vote won’t impact your state’s electoral votes, you still have a part to play.
Why is it more important than ever to make one’s voice heard?
Rosario Dawson: Every four years the airwaves are taken over by presidential candidates but what doesn’t get enough attention are the “down ballot” positions, measures and propositions. So much of what makes a difference in our day to day lives is affected by not only the Federal but by the local and state decisions that you have a say in. Who is representing your neighborhood and therefore your access, opportunities and rights? Know that your personal experience is worthy of being expressed and heard.
Your voice matters. If you don’t use it the powers that be will take it as a signal that they can continue doing whatever they want without expectation or repercussion. I know we expect more than what we’re getting. Let’s make sure that resounds through history with this election.
María Teresa Kumar: The stakes this year are too high. This is the first election in our history where Latinxs will be the second-largest ethnic voting bloc, and Millennials and Gen Zers will make up the largest generational voting bloc. This election will be the first time we see shifts in the electorate that will last for the next 40 years or more.
Favorite voting resources?
María Teresa Kumar:
Votolatino.org – try out our election center! It’ll guide you through the whole process so that there’s no excuse on not returning your ballot.
Want to volunteer to mobilize 3.7 million low propensity voters? Text ‘Volunteer’ to 73179 and we’ll plug you in from the comfort of your home! Our volunteers have already mobilized 800,000 voters!
If you’re interested in becoming a poll worker, make sure to check out powerthepolls.org. It’s a great opportunity to help our democracy this election season.
Apart from voting, how can people get involved?
Become a poll worker by going to PowerThePolls.org as a lack of poll workers means closed polling places and longer delays.
Adopt a state via VoteSaveAmerica2020.com to call and encourage low propensity voters to turn out. Turn out is so much higher when you make a plan to vote so make a date with this election and put it in your calendar while encouraging your family and friends to do so as well.
Drop off/mail in your ballot ASAP to avoid having your vote discounted because it arrived too late (don’t forget the secrecy envelopes, to sign it and to completely fill in the oval using a black or blue pen…!).
Vote early. Check Ballotpedia.org for your state rules. and know that 21 states and the District of Columbia allow for same day registration meaning there may still be time to register and vote in some places even if folks wait to the last minute or turn 18 by November 3rd!
Pass this info on!
María Teresa Kumar: Text ‘volunteer’ to 73179 to get alerts about phone and text banking opportunities with Voto Latino. Our volunteers have already mobilized 800,000 voters! Your influence can make the difference.