By Keith Griffin
Hartford’s Latino community is for the first time being targeted in a concerted, non-partisan voter engagement project by the Hartford VOTA/Hartford VOTES coalition.
Richard Frieder, Hartford Public Library’s director of community development and engagement, conceded it’s a project that has been long overdue with Latinos being the largest segment of the capital city’s population at more than 57,000 residents. A grant from the federal of Institute of Museum and Library Services (administered by the Connecticut State Library) makes the outreach possible.
“We really wanted to serve the Latino community and we’re thrilled this grant is giving us that opportunity,” Frieder said. “We’ve tried in the past but we haven’t had the resources.”
Volunteer efforts weren’t feasible, he added, because most of the coalition members behind HartfordInfo.org are not Spanish speakers and were not from the Latino community. “We’ve always just done the best we could and getting by on the skin of our teeth,” Frieder said. “The desire was always there. If 80 percent of us were Latino, it would have happened sooner.”
The program appears to be unique to Hartford. Large libraries contacted around the state said they are not embarking on similar efforts.
A key focus of Hartford VOTAS/Hartford VOTES, a coalition of 14 organizations including the library, will be a neighborhood canvass. The coalition is going out to potential voters and not waiting for them to show up at events. Neighborhoods with high Latino population percentages and low voter registration will be targeted.
“We’ll go door-to-door with volunteers talking with people about the election process and encouraging them to get involved. It’s another opportunity to reach them,” he said.
Then, once prospective voters have been registered, Hartford VOTA/Hartford VOTES will pound the pavement again. “A few days before the election, we’ll have a get-out-the-vote effort … to remind people to get out there and vote,” he said. “If people don’t vote, it doesn’t mean anything if they have registered. A lot of people, if they have never voted and they’re not in the habit of voting, it’s very easy to forget.”
Funds from the $35,000, one-year grant are being used to hire a part-time coordinator, already in place, as well as contract services for voter turnout and planning. Money is also being used for translation services and meeting interpretation.
Douglas Lord, Library Services and Technology Coordinator at the state library, oversees the federal grants dispersed in Connecticut. He said The Hartford VOTA/Hartford VOTES project, while the only one of its kind in the state, had to meet guidelines. “It was pretty competitive. It’s not a pass through,” Lord said, explaining that the funds came from dollars designated for programs serving multi-lingual and underserved populations.
The organizations involved in Hartford VOTA/Hartford Votes are:
- A Better Way Foundation
- Achieve Hartford!
- City of Hartford Registrar of Voters
- Connecticut Center for a New Economy
- CT Association of Nonprofits
- Common Cause in Connecticut
- Hartford 2000
- Hartford Areas Rally Together (HART)
- Hartford Public Library
- League of Women Voters of Greater Hartford
- MetroHartford Alliance
- Nancy A. Humphrey’s Institute for Political Social Work
- Office of the Secretary of State