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Get out the vote efforts in immigrant communities are in full swing. But what does that actually look like on the ground?
An afternoon with canvasser Jose Valtierra.
It’s Monday afternoon and Jose Valtierra has just wrapped up his Cognitive Science class at Oglethorpe College in Brookhaven. He meets Haisa Nguyen, also a college student, but at Georgia State University, at a shopping center in Peachtree Corners. They both get into his blue Honda Civic and drive to a neighborhood about a mile away where they will spend the next four hours knocking on doors.
Jose and Haisa are among at least ten “deep canvassers' working for Asian American Advancing Justice-Atlanta to get out the vote in immigrant communities across the region. They’re not the only ones - groups like the Georgia Muslim Voter Project, the Latino Community Fund-Georgia, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights and the Center for Pan Asian Community Services are all ramping up voter education efforts, with the elections just over a month away. Turnout in Asian communities in 2020 was nothing short of historic, and the pressure is on to repeat that in November's closely watched races.
On any given week, he works 15 hours, walking up and down neighborhood streets in immigrant dense areas like Tucker, Peachtree Corners, or Lilburn - placing door hangers with election information on the front doors of homes and sometimes connecting with residents directly. “In four hours, we knock on 100 doors, and probably five to eight people will open the door,” said Jose.
For Jose, the aim is to connect with voters with immigrant backgrounds- mostly Latino and Asian - and make sure they know that there are elections coming up, and that they have the information they need to get them plugged into the election cycle. At the beginning of his shift, Jose opens an app on his phone that lays out which neighborhoods - and homes - he and his team will hit that day.
“Everybody who is on the list is most likely already registered to vote and they have most likely voted in the past. But it's just like a friendly reminder. Because a lot of people tend to forget about other elections, especially municipal elections,” said Jose, who was also out canvassing before the 2021 local elections.
“Last year, a lot of people didn’t know what was going on. This year they kind of only know about the governor's race.” There’s less awareness, he says, about the other races - like attorney general and secretary of state. But depending on what area you go, people are already civically engaged, “Doraville, Chamblee, Tucker…especially Gwinnett...all those areas, they’re registered to vote, they know where their voting location is, stuff like that.”
I stuck with Jose and Haisa for an eventful hour - we walked up and down driveways, saw a chicken in the middle of the road, and I walked directly into a thorn bush (thankfully Haisa had bandaids in her purse which she promptly pulled out). We passed two other men walking the streets and knocking on doors - they said they were marketing their roofing company.
When a few people did open their doors, Jose kept it short, quickly explaining what they were doing in under 30 seconds. He spoke Spanish with the residents, and told me that he often does when canvassing, though he says his Spanish isn't great. "I'm a 'no sabo' kid," he said. Haisa, who speaks Vietnamese, said it came in handy when she canvassed outside of shopping centers like Hong Kong Market.
I have to admit I felt winded after that hour - I mean, it was very hilly and very sunny. “We look at our steps on our phone after the shift, and it’s insane…one Saturday we walked from 9 o’clock to 3pm and I did 25,000 steps that day. I have never walked this much in my life,” said Haisa.
As I waved goodbye, they still had at least three hours left of canvassing. But they seemed neither winded, nor deterred.