Why Young Latinos Are Even More Important Than You Think This Election

How many times have you heard it said this year that Latinos have the power to shape the 2016 election? It's true, of course, but there's a major issue people don't mention as often: not all Latino voters will actually cast a ballot.

To put the significance of the Latino vote into perspective, consider that the number of eligible Hispanic voters has grown "at one of the fastest clips of any group over the past eight years," according to a Pew study from January 2016, and is projected to reach 27.3 million eligible voters in 2016. We repeat: 27.3 million. That's up from 19.5 million in 2008.

But the same study found that in 2008, 9.8 million eligible Latino voters did not vote and that the number climbed to 12.1 million in 2012. "The Hispanic voter turnout rate has also long remained lower than that among blacks or whites," it concluded.

That could be damaging for Latinos and the issues they care about. "There's not going to be any person from any other ethnicity that's going to help us get more people out to vote," said Michael Trujillo, a 36-year-old Mexican-American who's on the DNC Rules Committee. "We have to do it ourselves."

Trujillo was a former field director during Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential bid, and in 2014, he served as a senior adviser to the "Ready For Hillary" super PAC that preceded her campaign launch. At the time, he was dubbed "the Latino who could win Hillary the presidency."

"We're still missing a huge swath of our family members that are just watching their favorite telenovelas."

So how does Trujillo think Latinos can get out the vote? With the help from young people who are active in politics. "I hope that trickles up to grandmas and grandpas who are eligible to vote and don't," Trujillo said. "That's the problem — as young people are becoming more educated and activated because of social media, we're still missing a huge swath of our family members that are just watching their favorite telenovelas and that's it."(Another Pew study found that millennials make up a larger share among eligible Latino voters projected for 2016, which is larger than any other group.)

This older generation isn't taking part in the political conversation on Facebook or Twitter, and it can be awkward thanks to cultural norms to bring it up to them. "We not only have to educate down but educate up," he said. "We have aunts and uncles that we may not want to speak disrespectful to or try to change their ways, but we're going to have to be just as aggressive with them as we are in front of the camera or when we're protesting or anything else."

Trujillo himself played an active part in getting his parents to vote. He helped register his father, a construction worker, and his mother, a secretary, to vote when he was in the fourth grade. "I went with my mom to vote for [Michael] Dukakis over [George H. W.] Bush in 1988. I don't know where it came from — it definitely didn't come from Mom and Dad, but I had an interest in politics since I can remember."

One of the big misconceptions about the Latino voter is that they care just about immigration, he said. But some of their main priorities are easier access to health care and quality, affordable education that would benefit all people.

And without exercising their right to vote, what happens? "When we don't vote, bullies like Donald Trump can rise from the ashes and claim he's going to deport us all," he said. "When we don't vote, it becomes easier to push us around and not have our voices heard."