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Top Stories 2022: Latino voting power and candidate viability a main focus in 2022

  • Anthony Orozco
Latinos gather in Reading, Pa., for the second Puerto Rican Day Parade and Festival in City Park.

 Anthony Orozco / WITF

Latinos gather in Reading, Pa., for the second Puerto Rican Day Parade and Festival in City Park.

With newly reshaped legislative districts across the state, Latinos looked to expand their influence this past year.

The new legislative districts aimed to give communities of color better chances to elect state leaders, according to the state commission that oversaw the process.  

Advocates said some redistricted urban areas, such as Allentown, purposefully cut out Latino candidates. 

Victor Martinez, owner of Spanish radio station La Mega in the city, was one of the leading voices challenging the reshaped maps.

He said it’s indicative of how Latino voters and candidates are treated in general. 

“The state of Pennsylvania has taken the Latino vote for granted. And they do it over and over again,” Martinez said. “They keep telling us wait your turn, wait your turn, but then our turn never arrives.”

Carol Kuniholm with Fair Districts PA, says while the new districts couldn’t make everyone happy, there were significant improvements in giving communities of color greater say in their candidates. 

“I think there’s some added energy that it’s possible to participate in a way that was not there before these maps were drawn,” Kuniholm said during the May primary.

But voters faced more challenges than simply choosing between candidates. 

Electronic poll books failed across Berks County during the primary, causing a judge to order polling hours be extended two more hours.

Voting rights advocates say the county’s mishaps were another example of a pattern of  failing to serve people in Reading, particularly Spanish-speaking voters. 

Democratic state Rep. Manuel Guzman Jr. of Reading is one who criticized the situation.

“Time and time again, election cycle after election cycle after election cycle, there seems to be some persistent themes that come from the Berks county election services department,” Guzman said.

When the dust settled, seven out of 16 Latino candidates state and federal lawmakers across the commonwealth won their bids for nomination. 

Going into the November election, Latinos felt largely ignored by get-out-the-vote campaigns, according to a Telemundo poll of Latinos across the state.

Voter advocacy groups and the Department of State decried the Berks sheriff deputies not only guarding ballot drop boxes, but questioning voters if their ballots were their own and if they were signed and dated.

Voter Milka Uribe says she heard from some who cast ballots this way that they were concerned about having to interact with law enforcement..

“There are some people who are very surprised because why does it have to be an armed person to tell you that?” Uribe said. 

The potential for civil and voting rights violations prompted the Department of Justice to send monitors to Berks County and four other locations around the state.

In York County, Latino advocacy groups CASA and LatinoJustice PRLDEF settled a lawsuit to ensure interpreters were  available at polls. 

 Lourdes Rosado of LatinoJustice says it’s important to stay vigilant.

“[We’re] still not seeing the number of Spanish interpreters that we think are necessary to serve the Spanish speaking community here,” Rosado said. “So that is an area for improvement.”

Voters across the midstate did not encounter widespread issues at the polls and Acting Pennsylvania Secretary of State Leigh Chapman called the November general election a success.

Berks County stands out once again in terms of Latino leadership. It is being the only county outside of Philadelphia to have more than one Latino state lawmaker. 

Democratic incumbent Guzman Junior and Reading City Council President Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz won their bids to represent the dramatically reshaped House districts that include parts of Reading.

Cepeda-Freytiz says it feels like noticeable change is finally happening.

“I would always be so frustrated, especially being in the city where the majority of people look like me, brown and black, the majority, yet, we weren’t represented,” Cepeda-Freytiz said in her election night victory speech. “We weren’t at the table. We were on the menu, but not at the table.”

Winning an election is no small feat, but for the Latinos who are heading into the halls of power, the real work is yet to begin.

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