Richard Quevedo is co-chairman of the Southwest Voter Project's program to register Latino voters in the San Fernando Valley.
Using volunteers, the group is blanketing schools, churches and shopping areas to register as many eligible Latino voters as possible in time for the June and November elections, an effort that could significantly alter Valley voting and political demographics.
Quevedo recently talked about his group's efforts.
Question: How many Latino voters do you hope to register in the San Fernando Valley this year?
Answer: Our goal is to register 25,000 Latinos in the Valley.
Q: How many unregistered Latino voters are there in the Valley?
A: There are approximately 60,000 to 70,000 potential voters.
Q: So 25,000 would significantly increase your political voice here?
A: There hasn't been a real voice for the Latino community, and I think this will create the foundation to start to put on the table the issues that affect Latinos in the Valley.
Q: Proposition 187 passed in the Valley by a larger margin than anywhere else. Has this been a motivating factor behind the registration drive?
A: It's been a catalyst. It means when you go to talk to people about getting involved to vote, you don't need a lot of salesmanship anymore. They know what the agenda is. I think the legislative atmosphere is definitely something that the community is very well aware of. And they know that this is a political year.
Q: Where are you going to find potential voters?
A: We have developed four different components. One is the high school component, where we are instructing and teaching those students who are in a leadership position how to go out and do presentations. That has yielded more registered voters than we thought.
The second component is site work, going to areas where there is a large Latino concentration, such as the Panorama Mall, Van Nuys Boulevard, for instance. We're not partisan, so we can't turn away anybody. But we're just going to be focusing specifically in those targeted areas.
[Another] component is the church. On some occasions, the priest has allowed us to go into the services and make a pitch about voter registration.
Q: You've received some criticism for using the church as a registration tool.
A: It's always that church and state kind of an issue. But I think some of the churches realize that having the power to vote gives the individual a voice.
Q: Have some churches balked?
A: The Catholic churches have been real good. We haven't approached the Pentecostal or the Presbyterian churches yet. We will but we have heard that some churches will not participate.
Q: The fourth component?
A: It's the labor component, made up of all the local unions in the San Fernando Valley. Unions bring experience to the program. They also provide volunteers to go out and either walk the precincts, or do the site work, or to assist in other areas.
Q: What are you doing to prevent voter registration fraud, such as the problems that arose in the Loretta Sanchez and Tony Cardenas races?
A: There is a training program for our volunteers. We just didn't want to have to deal with questions of fraudulent registration at all. I mean, that's an unnecessary problem. So the training they go through is pretty intensive, and we hope that will alleviate the problem. If somebody wants to register to vote and is not here legally, well that's just something we're gonna have to deal with when we get to it. But the volunteers have been informed, sternly, about what they can and cannot do.
Q: And you're not using what they call "bounty hunters," people who are paid to register voters?
A: No, we are all volunteers. The only people who are going be being paid are the students who do the presentations.
Q: Registering is half of the problem. Getting people to go out and vote is quite another. Is your organization prepared to follow through after you've gotten people registered, to get them out to the polls?
A: One of the phases of the program is to do a follow-up. We haven't determined yet how we're gonna do that. We're talking about the home balloting process.
Q: You mean absentee ballots?
A: Yes, so they can vote at home. If we have the volunteers, just before the primary and just before the general election, then maybe we'll get our labor component to help because they've got some pretty well established phone bank systems.
Q: Southwest Voter in the past has taken kind of a multifaceted approach to registration efforts, where they also have encouraged naturalization and also established leadership training programs for young people with an eye toward developing potential candidates. Is the Valley effort following that route?
A: We sent, I believe, four high school students to the Southwest Voter Project leadership training conference.