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How local nonprofit plans to help Latinos, low-income voters reach the polls
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People vote during early voting at the Hall County Government Center on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

In an effort to grow voter turnout in this year’s midterm elections, the Hispanic Alliance GA, a Gainesville nonprofit, will be providing volunteers to help Latino and low-income voters with transportation to the polls and translation assistance.

“In our efforts to accommodate the needs of some of our Hispanic voters and considering the great need of our county living in poverty, we believe that this initiative could alleviate some in their efforts to vote and increase access to voting polls,” Executive Director Vanesa Sarazua said. “Our community does not utilize Uber or Lyft, and the city transit operates without our community utilizing it as it should.”

According to census figures, about 3,300 households in Hall report having no personal vehicle or transportation.

Meanwhile, 18.3 percent of the county is considered “extremely poor,” according to census figures compiled by the United Way of Hall County. That’s a family of four earning less than $25,000 a year.

Meanwhile, 21.8 percent is considered “very poor or low-income” and 14.3 percent is “financially burdened.”

Just 45.6 percent of the population (a family of four earning $60,000 or more annually) is “self-sufficient.”

Phillippa Lewis Moss, director of the Gainesville-Hall Community Service Center, said flyers are posted on buses informing riders that Gainesville Connection’s bus route 41 serves the Hall County Government Center, where polls are open for early voting, as well as on Election Day.

But for low-income residents who do not live on a bus route, the cost to vote can be prohibitive, according to Sarazua.

“We felt it was a true fit for our Hispanic community and other minorities who are burdened with having to pay $15 to $30 (taxi cab fares) to go and vote,” she said.

And there has been no discussion about providing free fare or expanding public transport services to the polls on Election Day, according to Gainesville City Manager Bryan Lackey. 

Craig Lutz, a Republican member of the Hall County Board of Elections, said he doesn’t have an opinion on whether local government should provide increased transportation or free fare on Election Day, but that increasing voter turnout is a definite priority.

While turnout in Hall for the 2016 presidential election beat a high set in 2008, with about 78.5 percent of eligible voters casting ballots, both Republicans and Democrats are hoping to best or equal that total in this year’s midterms.

“I want as many people to vote that can,” Lutz said. “In order to ensure equal treatment, I’d probably prefer as many voters as possible learn about absentee mail-in.”

Michelle Sanchez, a Democrat on the elections board, said she proposed at a recent meeting that elections officials increase their efforts to raise awareness about absentee mail-in ballots.

“I definitely think that’s one way to increase turnout,” Sanchez said, adding that voters do not have to be out-of-town or elderly to vote by absentee ballot.

Voting by mail-in can also give people the time they need to educate themselves on the candidates and the races on the ballot, Sanchez said.

Early voting is available Saturday, Oct. 27, at the Spout Springs Library in Flowery Branch, the East Hall and North Hall community centers, along with the government center on Browns Bridge Road.

Free rides to the polling booth

What: Volunteers available to transport voters to polling location and assist with Spanish-language translation

When: 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Oct. 27

Where: Meet at Taqueria El Mercadito, 275 Pearl Nix Parkway #2, Gainesville, 30501

More info: Visit hispanicalliancega.org

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