¡Sí se puede! A Latino History of Voting Rights in the United States​

Explore how the Molina Family Latino Gallery tells the story of Latino voters' role in shaping U.S. democracy.

By Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino

By Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Latino

Tim Kaine at Arizona Democratic Party Event (2016) by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino

Why is the Latino Vote Important?

As the 2022 midterm elections come up this year, we reflect on why the Latino vote is significant in U.S. democracy and what it means for eligible U.S.-Latino/a/x voters. Explore the past, present, and future of Latino voting!

UnidosUS Ya Es Hora ¡CIUDADANÍA! Program (2021) by UnidosUSSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino

Voting Rights in the United States

Who has the right to vote in the United States? Generally, U.S. citizens can vote. Those who are eligible can vote in elections at the federal, midterm, state, and local levels. In some cases residents of U.S. territories can also vote, with restrictions.

UnidosUS Ya Es Hora ¡CIUDADANÍA! Program (2021) by UnidosUSSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino

Who has the right to vote has changed over time through laws and constitutional amendments.  Various organizations, such as those for Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, American Latinos, LGBTQ+ and women work to ensure the right to vote.

First LULAC Convention by UnknownSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino

LULAC

Pictured here is the first meeting of LULAC—the League of United Latin American Citizens—which formed in 1929 to fight against racial discrimination and voter suppression in Texas.

Luis Munoz Marin TIME Magazine cover (1958-06-23) by TIME USA LLCSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino

Puerto Rico under the U.S. Flag

Did you know? ​The 1917 Jones-Shafroth Act declared Puerto Ricans as U.S. citizens. The island, however, remained an unincorporated U.S. territory, with democracy and constitutional rights being limited. 

Puerto Rico’s constitution, written in 1952 under the guidance of Governor Luis Muñoz Marín, designated the island as a commonwealth. Because Puerto Rico is not a state, its residents cannot vote in federal elections. Puerto Ricans who move to a state are eligible to vote.

In 2020, Puerto Ricans were the second largest Latino eligible voter group at 13%.​

LEARN MORE!

Adelina Otero-Warren (1923) by Bain News ServiceSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino

Overcoming barriers to vote

Barriers such as literacy tests, polling taxes, and discrimination based on race and gender restricted the vote. Adelina Otero-Warren was instrumental in garnering support for women's suffrage among Spanish- and English-speaking communities in New Mexico.

Adelina Otero-Warren (1923) by Bain News ServiceSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino

In 1920, women gained the right to vote. In 1965 the Voting Rights Act made voting barriers illegal, however, nothing was added about language barriers, causing issues for voting rights to the  Latino community and others who could not understand English.​

Adelina Otero-Warren (1923) by Bain News ServiceSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino

Ten years later, an addition to the Act fixed this issue by protecting language minorities and banning other tests forced on them.

Latino Eligible Voter Population (2021) by National Museum of the American LatinoSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino

After the passing of voting rights acts the percentage of Latino voters has grown steadily from 44% in 1980 to 50% in 2020.

Let's look at Latino voting patterns in 2020!

Tim Kaine at Arizona Democratic Party Event (2016) by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino

Latino Voters in 2020

A record number of Latinos—nearly 30 million—were eligible to vote in 2020. Of that nearly 30 million, a record 16.5 million voted.​

Latino Voter Turn Out Rates by Age (2021) by National Museum of the American LatinoSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino

Older Latinos Vote More

Even though the Latino eligible voter population tends to be younger, older Latinos had better voter turn-out in 2020. Over 63% of the eligible Latino population over age 65 voted in 2020 while the 18–29 age group had a turn-out rate around 44%.

Hispanic Women Vote for Obama (2008) by Richard LevineSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino

Latinas Vote

Voter turn-out rates among Latinos reached 54% in 2020. Within the 54%, women were more likely to vote then men. Half of eligible Latina voters showed up to the polls, as compared to 45% of men.

Maria Hinojosa on the Latino Voting BlocSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino

Maria Hinojosa on the Latino Voting Bloc

Idaho Vote (2003) by Matt CilleySmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino

Growing the Latino Vote!

At the state level, voter registration efforts were especially active in 2020. Organized efforts tried to lure voters to the polls in both historic swing states and the most populous Latino states in the country.

Nation Goes To The Polls (2016) by David McNew/ Getty ImagesSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino

Voting in California

California has the highest concentration of Latino residents of any state, 37%. California also has the largest number of Latino eligible voters. Its 7.8 million Latino voters skew younger. Over half of the nation’s Latino millennial population lives in California.

José Julio Sarria (2021) by Rafael LópezSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino

Did You Know?

A Californian of Colombian and Spanish descent, José Julio Sarria became the first openly gay person to run for public office in 1961 in San Francisco. Sarria was unsuccessful in his race for  Supervisor but opened the door for other LGBTQ+ individuals to run for office.

HOLA Ohio by HOLA OhioSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino

Increasing Voter Turn Out

HOLA Ohio is a member of the UnidosUS Affiliate Network. Among other services, the organization helps people register to vote once they become U.S. citizens.​​One of HOLA's clients not only used her new citizenship to register to vote—she  made a run for a city council seat.

UnidosUS Voting by UnidosUSSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino

Why vote in midterm elections?

Midterm elections give the public an opportunity to vote for members of Congress as well as state and local representatives. These elections occur midway through the President’s term and take place Tuesday, November 8, 2022.​

Stop forced sterilization (1977) by Rachael Romero and San Francisco Poster BrigadeSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino

Voting for Change

Voting allows us to fight for justice, support fair labor practices, gain broader education access, advocate for immigration reform, LGBTQ rights, and women's rights, among other issues. By voting, we make our voices heard and become active agents of change for our communities.

Gustavo Torres on the Importance of Latino VotingSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino

Gustavo Torres on the Importance of Latino Voting

¡Presente! Introduction and Accessibilty Panels (2022-06-13) by Tony PowellSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino

Visit the National Museum of the American Latino Online!

Learn about the exhibition  ¡Presente! A Latino History of the United States

Explore more about Latino Voters!

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