Here’s a pop quiz. How many people in north and south Omaha are registered to vote but don’t? Five thousand? Ten thousand? Or more than twenty-five thousand? If you guessed more than twenty-five thousand you would be right. Eight thousand of those non-voting 26,000 registered voters live in south Omaha, and the Heartland Workers Center will be on the streets and the phones trying to motivate them right up until Election Day.
“It is sad that there are eight thousand voters who are registered to vote, but don’t,” said Sergio Sosa, HWC Executive Director. “Our goal is to reach that sector of the voting population. What we are doing is part of a bigger strategy we have been working on over the last two or three months, actually since the beginning of the year, to promote civic engagement,” he added. “Civic participation goes beyond elections, but that’s where it starts.”
The four-part strategy includes using the media, making phone calls, canvassing neighborhoods and finally, giving voters a ride to the polls on Election Day. The precincts with the lowest voter turnout in South Omaha were 4-1 St. Patrick’s gym, 4-3 Highland Tower, 4-14 KJ Tower, 4-18 Our Lady of Guadalupe Hall, 4-15 St. Peter and Paul church and 4-10 the Kroc Center. “Our goal is to reach those six precincts that have the lowest propensity of voters first. Then we will go to the rest of the precincts,” Sosa said.
HWC’s video, “Voto Por Mi Familia,” is posted on YouTube and has been shown locally on TV Azteca, TV Estrella, and Univision as well as on Spanish language radio stations. The catchy 30-second spot was made by volunteer Dario Garcia, a professional videographer. “We invite you to watch it, distribute it, and put it in your webpages,” said Abbie Kretz, Senior Organizer with HWC. The video can also be sent by text message to a smart phone and is posted on the HWC facebook page.
Phone calls are made from the HWC office. The effort has been aided by an electronic dialing system. “So far we have called five thousand registered voters in Douglas County,” Kretz said. “We’re going to continue making phone calls up until November 5th,” promised Sosa. “It’s a way to engage voters through personal conversations. We want to encourage new voters to attend meetings. We promote voter education. Our goal is to reach 10 to 12 thousand voters before election day. We are reaching out to non-Latino voters in South Omaha, too,” he said.
Forty volunteers participated in the weekday evening canvassing and 60 volunteers signed up to help over the weekend. In the first five days they canvassed, volunteers reached over 1,000 houses. In addition, HWC has helped register over 150 voters since their efforts began in September.
The Reader/El Perico observed Kretz one evening last week as she trained eight volunteers and sent them out into precinct 4 - 18, one of the low-propensity areas where registered voters typically stay home. These residents polling location is Our Lady of Guadalupe Hall. HWC compiled address lists of voters who have not voted in the past so volunteers knew which houses to canvass, as well as the names of people they would be visiting. Volunteers canvassed in teams of two.
Every volunteer received a gray t-shirt, an ID badge and a bag full of pamphlets, League of Women Voter’s information guides in English or Spanish, voter registration forms and request forms for an early voting ballot.
Kretz, a native of Schuyler, Nebraska, learned Spanish in college and honed her language skills working in Lima, Peru for two years. She knocked on doors and explained who she was and why she was there.
She made sure the residents got their voter information card with the location of their polling place, asked if they had any questions about absentee or early voting, or if they needed a ride to the polls. Frequently, people invited her into their homes while they filled out forms. One young man wanted to know how a blond haired, blue-eyed young woman learned to speak Spanish so well. She laughed and told him she lived in South America. He nodded his head, impressed.
After two hours, the teams met back at the HWC office to evaluate the success of the evening. On this night, the volunteers were in their early 20s, one was 31. Each of the teams had stories to report. Other than knocking on doors when people were not home, no one had a bad encounter with a voter.
Volunteers are still needed, especially for transportation. Those interested in volunteering should first call the HWC office at 402-933-6095 and then meet at 4923 South 24th Street, third floor, from 5 to 7p.m. weekdays or 10 to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Check the website www.heartlandworkerscenter.org for additional information or send an e-mail to hwcomaha@gmail.