Mobilizing new American voters in Nevada during the midterm election
In recent years, Nevada has had a large number of individuals becoming naturalized citizens. With tight races across the country, candidates and parties are focusing on voter turnout for the midterm election. Nevada is one of a few states where new American voters could decide the outcome of an election.
Cristhian Barneond is from Guatemala, and he moved to Las Vegas from Florida about 10 years ago. As soon as he got his citizenship in August, he registered to vote as an Independent.
“Literally, the next hour. The next hour, I was on the web, registering on Clark County and putting my name on there because that was, you know, that’s the goal,” Barneond said. “You become a citizen, and then you go and start fighting the good fight.”
Barneond is a chef at a restaurant at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino on the Strip. Recently, he took a leave of absence so he could canvas with the Culinary Union for the election.
“My job is important, but this is more important. This is my life. My life is at risk if different laws are changed,” Barneond said.
He’s backing Democrats because he says they’re more supportive of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. It protects people, commonly referred to as DREAMers, who were brought into the U.S. as minors.
“Most important issue right now [is] immigration. The DREAMers specifically, they ... still are in limbo,” Barneond said. “I want them to have the same opportunity that everybody has. They’ve been here their whole life. They don’t know anything else but here. So that is my motivation.”
Nearly 43,000 people got their citizenship in Nevada from 2016 to 2020. It’s a diverse group of people of all ages from around the world, most notably from Asia and the Americas, according to a report by the National Partnership for New Americans.
“Newly naturalized citizens are not monolithic,” said Tom Wong, the report’s lead researcher. He’s also an associate professor of political science and director of the US Immigration Policy Center at UC San Diego.
“They’re not captured by one political party or another; they’re not defined by one issue or another. But to the extent that political parties or candidates see newly naturalized citizens as a potential voting bloc, and does the work of outreaching to these voters, then there is [an] increasingly large and growing in prominence group of voters that can really change election results from here on out,” Wong said.
“For some, there may be language barriers when it comes to accessing information about candidates and about ballot measures; knowing all of the different races and knowing who the candidates are, what they stand for,” Wong said.
That’s why there are organizations doing this kind of work in Nevada, like the Asian Community Development Council (ACDC), which helps with nonpartisan voter registration and multilingual education.
Under the Federal Voting Rights Act, Clark County is required to provide registration and voting materials, including ballots, to be available in English, Spanish and Tagalog because more than 5% or 10,000 eligible voters speak a language other than English. Chinese speakers missed that threshold by fewer than 500 people, so ACDC worked to provide election materials in Chinese. For ACDC Assistant Director of Outreach Amy Koo, the issue is personal.
“My dad was naturalized when I was a baby, but he was just never an active voter, never really thought that his vote mattered,” Koo said. “Then when my mom got naturalized in 2017, the first time that she was able to vote, she was very excited, and was very excited to get their sample ballot in Chinese, and that was something that was very galvanizing for both my parents to take that step to go vote.”
In addition to providing materials in different languages, she said cultural organizing is also a large part of successful voter outreach, like gathering over food or holidays.
“That’s really going to be the difference because when we make [an] effort to understand other people’s cultures and other people’s traditions and to participate in those, I think that we can understand those issues a lot better, and voters feel more heard,” Koo said.
As for chef Barneond, he voted by mail for the first time in late October. He’s been canvassing with the Culinary Union since 2016, but this time, things are different.
“Because when I was a resident, you have still limitations. Now that I’m a citizen, it’s like 100%. It’s like, there’s no stopping,” Barneond said. “I go out there and knock on doors. I do everything I can to make sure that people go out and vote. I tell everybody that’s just becoming a citizen to go out there and do the same.”