It was live from City College as Univision reporter Alejandro Mendoza implored Spanish-speaking citizens on a recent Friday afternoon to come register to vote.
“I always have Univision on,” said Rosabeta Almendares, who caught the 5:30 broadcast on the Bay Area’s newscast, Noticias 14. Within minutes, she arrived at the campus courtyard on 22nd and Bartlett with a son and daughter in tow. Her 20-year old son, Mario–who had not yet registered since moving back from El Salvador–was immediately handed a registration form.
With some egging on from his family, the newly registered Almendares agreed to accompany Mendoza on one of seven live broadcasts of the afternoon so that he could show off his new “VOTE!” sticker for the cameras.
“It’s one of the commitments Univision has with our community,” said Noticias 14 Executive Producer, Mahelda Rodriguez, about the network’s dedication to voter education.
The city’s department of elections and the news program will partner again on October 17 to answer last minute questions on a Spanish-language hotline before registration ends on October 20.
“The voting process is completely different here,” said Department of Elections Spanish-language outreach worker, Isabel Corbi, comparing the propositions and ranked-choice voting on San Francisco’s ballot to the simple list of candidates in her native Mexico. “For this reason, we are here working with the community to provide information,” she said.
Corbi appeared briefly with Mendoza on a one-minute segment for the six o’clock news to explain how voters in District 9 will mark a first, second and third choice on their ballots for the Supervisor race. Under the ranked-choice system which was instituted in 2004, if no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round, the candidate in last place will be eliminated and that candidate’s supporters’ second and third choice votes will be distributed to the other candidates until there is a majority winner.
Though classes were done for the day and the campus was quiet, a small stream of prospective voters trickled into the courtyard after each of Mendoza’s live broadcasts. Only about 30 people registered to vote over the course of the drive, but many came with friends and family who picked up Spanish brochures.
Juan Uribe originally came to accompany his 24-year-old son, who was registering for the first time. But Uribe was also able to correct a misspelling in his own registration. When he learned his wife could switch a mistake in her party affiliation, he was soon on his cell phone telling her to come down as well.
Alejandra Castro, 71, who lives nearby on Capp Street, signed up to receive a voter packet in her native language.
“This will let me read the propositions and be able to decide my vote,” said Castro in Spanish. She said it has been easier to obtain information in her language since moving to the Mission from San Mateo.
Since San Francisco’s monolingual Cantonese- and Spanish-speaking populations exceed 10,000, the Voting Rights Act requires the city to produce voter materials in all three languages.
“Doing things in three languages is a challenge,” said Charles MacNulty, Voter Outreach Manager for the Department of Elections. “You need money to do it, and you need time.”
Still, MacNulty said the agency has gone beyond the minimum requirement by publishing additional brochures in all three languages and translating materials into Russian. Since August, the agency has held more than 50 education and registration events throughout the city in multiple languages, and will hold 50 more before November 4, MacNulty said.
While about 21,000 Cantonese speakers have registered for materials in their language, requests for Spanish materials are only a fifth of that, suggesting still more outreach may be needed. The 2000 census estimated that 129,363 San Franciscans speak Chinese at home, more than one and a half times the city’s 83,879 Spanish speakers.
At the end of the evening, a trio of ranchera musicians wandered through the courtyard gates. Mendoza invited them to play an impromptu tune behind him for his final broadcast, and some prospective voters began to dance.
Mike Gallo, 70, a naturalized citizen from Nicaragua who is already registered to vote, came over from his nearby menswear store just to take in the scene. He said he has noticed a bigger effort this year within the Latino community to encourage legal residents to become citizens, and for citizens to vote.
“It’s a good thing,” he said.