Voting rights activists from Mi Familia Vota said after years of being ignored, they are seeing significant investments from politicians trying to reach out to the Latino community. As the largest non-white ethnic group in the United States continues to grow, Latinos have become a focal point for Republicans and Democrats alike.
But Héctor Sánchez Barba, the executive director and CEO of the Latino-focused civic engagement organization Mi Familia Vota, said that Latino voters must be prepared to identify which efforts are performative and what political promises will be kept.
"Nobody has a free ride with the Latino vote," Sánchez Barba told ABC News. "The important part is this is not a transactional element, just for the Latino vote. It [must be] a serious holistic engagement on Latino priorities."
The percentage of Latinos who were eligible to vote and did so rose to a historic high of 53.7% in 2020, increasing from 47.3% in 2016, according to CUNY's Center for Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino Studies.
This research also shows that the number of Latino votes in the 2020 election also increased by 29.8%: from the 12.7 million votes cast in 2016 to approximately 16.5 million in 2020.
Now, the fight for their votes is on ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
President Joe Biden won the majority of Latino voters across the country, but former President Donald Trump scored more votes in 2020 than he did in 2016.
Latino turnout in Texas rose from 1,938,000 in 2016 to 2,972,000 in 2020, the CUNY research shows. That's a 31.1% increase.
Republicans are now targeting Democratic Latino strongholds throughout the state -- like the Rio Grande Valley -- which seemingly faltered in 2020. Biden won in most counties, but by less than Hillary Clinton had won them in 2016. Zapata, Starr and Val Verde counties, which previously voted for Democrats, flipped to Trump in 2020.
Democratic representatives from across the state -- Colin Allred, Vicente Gonzalez, Filemon Vela, Henry Cuellar, and Lizzie Fletcher -- are being threatened by GOP challengers, according to the National Republican Congressional Committee.
McAllen, a Latino-majority border city in the valley, voted for its first GOP mayor in 24 years.
And in order to flip more seats and hold onto newly acquired seats, Republicans are creating Hispanic community centers across the country. The next one is slated to open in San Antonio, GOP Communications Director Danielle Alvarez told ABC News.
"We just opened in Doral, which is in South Florida," said Alvarez. "[We were] talking about having "pastelitos" and "cafecito" and having photos of the South Florida community up, and instead of campaign pull-out tables, doing domino tables. Just making it personal."
They've said they have also implemented this strategy with other ethnic groups, like Asian Pacific Americans and Black voters.
She added, "It provides us the ability to not just share our message and our agenda, but for them to have a conversation back and share their values and what they're hoping to accomplish."
From there, the RNC can train them to do the on-the-ground organizing for the Republican efforts.
"Most people kind of hear Democrats' wishful thinking that Texas is going to be purple," Alvarez said. "We would make the argument that Texas is red and it's become even more red, since the previous election."
Alvarez said that the RNC has a strong data operation that can analyze voters and what is important to them. The party's 2012's "Growth And Opportunity Report" continues to be an important source of information for the GOP strategy, Alvarez said. The report highlighted the party's need to campaign among Latino, Black, Asian, and LGBTQ Americans and "demonstrate we care about them, too," the report states.
Republicans said they hope to combine what they've learned to ensure that the new Hispanic-targeted centers hit home with voters.
"We're lucky that we don't often have to paint people with broad brushes -- we can get down to what moves in individual voter," said Alvarez.
Overall, Latinos voted less for Democrats in 2020 than they did in 2016, but the demographic still chose Biden over Trump with 58% of the vote.
Despite this, the Democratic National Committee is attempting to quell any Republican progress, reaching back into its playbook that has long won them the "Latino vote."
Democrats' I Will Vote initiative has invested $25,000,000 in voter education, voter protection and targeted voter registration and aims to make voting more accessible. With this, they hope to drive new voters -- hopefully Democrats -- to the polls.
"You'll see Democrats going out into communities across the country and specifically showing how these bills are going to be impacting their lives: creating jobs, lowering costs for families and cutting taxes for them as well," said Lucas Acosta, the senior spokesperson and coalitions director at Democratic National Committee.
In 2020, Latinos overall were concerned with their safety, their health amid COVID-19, and the economy, according to Pew Research.
Eight in 10 registered Latino voters rated the economy as their biggest priority at the time -- as the pandemic surged on and the unemployment reached a peak of 14.8% in April 2020, the Congressional Research Service reports. It was the highest rate observed since data collection began in 1948.
Latinos comprise 18.7% of the U.S. population, but represent 28.1% of the population in poverty, according to the U.S. Census.
Acosta said Democrats will focus their door-to-door, on-the-ground community-based outreach on Biden's American Rescue Plan, which promised to "deliver immediate relief for hard-hit Latino families and small businesses, build a bridge towards economic recovery, and reduce poverty in Latino communities by almost 40 percent," the plan's fact sheet read.
"Our responsibility is to make sure that voters know who was in the room fighting for that," Acosta said.
For Latino-targeted voting groups like Mi Familia Vota, they said the focus remains on protecting voters by campaigning against misinformation targeting this sought-after demographic and legislative efforts that make it harder for Latinos to vote.
Republicans across the country have enacted a wave of new voting laws. In September, Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed a sweeping voting bill into law that restricts counties' ability to expand options for voting and makes the election process harder for Texans. The law would limit how and when voters can cast ballots by banning overnight early voting hours as well as drive-thru voting.
Voting groups also said ads targeting the Latino community spread false claims about politicians and their platforms. Specifically, they say these misinformation campaigns instilled fear and betrayed the trust of voters. A recent Nielson report showed that Latino consumers are more likely to receive and share fake news on social media when compared to the rest of the population.
"Those policies that they're promoting are gonna make it way harder for us to go to the polls and have the basic right to vote," Sánchez Barba said. "And this is not something new. This is something historical, so we're keeping the Republicans accountable at a very high level."
Sánchez Barba also called out anti-immigrant language from the right. He said the party has a lot of work to repair a reputation of hate against people of color and Latino folks.
"A lot of these politicians and these parties only show up very last minute when they need the Latino vote," Sánchez Barba said. "The Latino community doesn't forget."