'LatinOH' voters in Northeast Ohio take it to the streets to wave their party flags

Las caravanas (the caravans) cut through the streets of every major city in Ohio, with state flags fluttering on passenger doors, and those with “Biden For President 2020” popping out of the sunroof next to Puerto Rican banners. Some honked, others played festive music while they waved.

But the 40 passengers involved in an October caravana in Cleveland made the message clear: We are Ohio’s Latinos, and we need you to vote Democrat.

“It’s all about us needing a leader who respects the law, who respects a healthy worldview, who believes in climate change,” says Lorraine Vega, a Cleveland co-leader of LatinOHs for Biden/Harris. “And for other voters, this all has to do with the pandemic.”

Since late August, Vega and a swath of other local leaders in Ohio’s Latino communities have organized self-funded, volunteer-led efforts to urge voters to side blue on Election Day.

LatinOHs for Biden/HarrisWith upwards of 250 members throughout the state running phone banks, writing bilingual materials, leading automobile caravanas or sign-posting drives, Vega and co-leaders Richard Romero and Evelyn Rivera have been organizing what may have been one of the largest pushes to bring the Latin vote to Ohio Democrats in recent memory.

This comes as many surveys suggest the Hispanic turnout at the election polls will increase exponentially today, Tuesday, Nov. 3.

But did LatinOHs for Biden’s effort to garner votes come too late in the game?

Though President Donald Trump won the swing state of Ohio by eight percentage points in 2016, this year's increase of roughly 42,000 additional eligible Latino voters in Ohio—most ages 18 to 24—suggest a possibly narrower margin this election.

But organizers also want to ensure a clean, fair electoral process.

“We’re going be sure to make sure there’s not any intimidation going on,” says Daniel Ortiz, a member of Policy Matters Ohio and a volunteer poll watcher in Lorain County. “This means anything from people getting false mailers, to certain parties sending out robo-calls with bad information—anything that would prevent, well, a truly democratic [event].”

Even though Romero enlisted a half dozen LatinOH volunteers in Lorain since August, the actual effect on a county that is 45% Latino is, like everything else, hard to truly ascertain, and not every Latino in Ohio supports Biden, some say.

Historically, Lorain's Puerto Rican voters, entrenched in the city’s rich but shaky steel and auto industries, have sided with a first-term President promising jobs and a healthier economy—notably helping to elect President Jimmy Carter in the 1970s.

Romero says that President Trump’s “failures” on that note could lead to Biden shining through in working class circles.

“Most of us at the United Steelworkers (U.S.W), a lot of us were supporting Trump [in his first election],” says Romero, a former member of the U.S.W. “I’ve talked to the union president, and he says that this year they’re all supporting the Dems. And you can’t forget: Lorain is a union town.”

David Arredondo, the chairman of the Lorain County Republican Party, begs to disagree with Romero’s forecast, saying that he believes that “Trump will win outright” with the Latin electorate—mostly due to Mr. Trumps wielding of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement in 2018.

As a dual citizen of Mexico, Arredondo says he believes that many of the “legal immigrants” coming from Latin America will swipe away the President’s more controversial comments under the assertion that one’s “job, security and family” come before rhetoric.

“The economy was really better here [in Lorain] than it was four years ago,” Arredondo says. “There’s no ban on fracking; the U.S. has become self-sufficient, it’s not importing oil from the Middle East; and we’re bringing our troops home. People are saying, ‘Ya know what? I am better off today than I was four years ago. That’s why I’m voting for Trump again.’”

The success of industry in the region aside, Vega says half of Latino voters have Covid-19 at the forefront of their minds.

“We can’t forget that we’ve lost many, many, many lives in the Hispanic community,” Vega says. “We’ve had more losses than other groups. So, it’s hard for that not to be on the top of our concerns.”

Whether her backers agree, Ohio will only find out after the final ballots are counted.

Read more articles by Mark Oprea.

Mark Oprea is a regular contributor to FreshWater Cleveland. He’s written for the Pacific Standard, OZY, and Cleveland Magazine, and was a correspondent in Mexico in 2018. He lives in Ohio City. More of his work can be found on his personal website.