Right now there are nearly 10 million Latinos living in the Lone Star State, and according to the Austin American Statesman, 1.3 million are living without representation among elected officials. In some cases, this can mean that a significant number of people are left to fend for themselves when government aid is needed. In areas like Deaf Smith County, the Latino population can top 70 percent, yet not one of the representative seats is held by a Latino, meaning there is a divide between who represents these citizens. At schools, similar problems arise. In the Grand Prairie school district, the school’s Latino population is around 65 percent, yet only one Latino, David Espinosa, sits on the school board. For a state that will be a majority Latino by the year 2020, a minority of offices are held by Latinos. This is a problem.
“I feel like we have been abandoned,” Isabel García told the Austin American Statesman.
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It might seem like the remedy for this problem rests in mobilizing Latino voters, but the math isn’t so simple. There are many factors that can lead to low Latino voter turn out: roadblocks in voter registration, voter apathy from underrepresentation, and redistricting measures that limit the influence of Latino voters are a few potential problems. Oftentimes, people running for office just don’t know how to connect with their Latino constituents and end up ignoring them when seeking reelection. Other times, the only strong candidates belong to a party that is not interested in their needs. In spite of all this, Texas is poised to become a swing state in the 2016 presidential election. In 2012, Romney held a double digit lead over Obama in the Texas vote. In 2016, the margin between Trump and Clinton is only 3 percent. This closing of the gap between Democrats and Republicans is partly due to Texas’ Latino population, which largely skews Democrat when voting. So while people like Isabel García feel disenfranchised by their lack of representation, the outcome of the national election can rest in the hands of Latino voters. Something has to change at a local level.
So what’s next?
CREDIT: TEXAS DEMOGRAPHIC CENTER
When Latinos vote in large numbers, they have the power to affect real political change. Florida has already seen a staggering increase in Latino voters for the 2016 presidential election, up 99% more than the turnout in 2012. For all the faults Texas has representing Latinos, the state also has more Latino elected officials than any other state, 2,536 in total. The problems that Texas is facing should concern any state that has a growing Latino population. Texas’ problems will be your problems one day soon. Thankfully, there are people in Texas’ underrepresented districts working for change, and already in this election cycle we’ve seen efforts to encourage Latino voter participation. Like most things, it’s a matter of time, education, and participation.