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In N.H., Voting Clinics for Latinos Teach Primary Basics

Latino voters are expected to turn out in record numbers across the country this election year. For many, learning the basics of how to vote is the first step.

On a Friday night, inside an evangelist church tucked in an office warehouse at the dark end of Nashua’s Tuck Street, Dulce Santana has a huge smile on her face. She’s proud, beaming: holding up a recent photo of her daughter, posing next to Hillary Clinton.

Her daughter volunteers for Clinton—and loves politics, Santana says. And Santana used to be a political junkie too, back in the Dominican Republic.

But since they came to the States, and Santana’s husband died years ago, she’s had nothing to do with politics. She just never learned enough English, she says—she’s always working.

At age 53, Santana still isn’t a citizen. But tonight, she’s come here—along with ten other Latino immigrants—to learn how to vote.

Now, that might sound strange: someone who’s not even a citizen spending the evening absorbing herself in ballot boxes and registration forms?

But Santana isn’t just here for herself. She intends to pass on what she learns here this evening—to her coworkers, and her friends, who are citizens and plan to vote, but had to work tonight.

Pastor Yolanda Martinez organized tonight’s little training. She says so many of her congregants have told her they plan to vote for the first time this year, and asking her questions she didn’t have the answers for. So she called in a couple people who do.

Handing out sample ballots to the group, Gustavo Morales is here to demystify basic steps, like registering and going to the polls.

Morales explained his goals: "To get them to get comfortable with the process if they haven’t done so  before, or if they know other people to encourage other people to get involved."

Within the New Hampshire electorate, Latinos make just 2.2 percent. But, within that small Latino population, the share of people eligible to vote is more than half. That’s really high compared to other mainly white states.

Here at this tiny voting clinic in Nashua, Gus Morales tells the group, every vote counts. All eyes are on the Presidential primary now, but this is about preparing to vote in local races too, where the Latino vote does have more chance to move the needle. 

"We’re here to motivate people to go to vote, to make them realize how important it is to be heard," explains Eva Castillo, the other teacher tonight. She says Latinos are too often people politicians speak about—she wants to politicians to speak directly to them.

"We’re lucky enough in New Hampshire to have the chance to question every single candidate!" Castillo says.

And she says town clerks and politicians here are too used to seeing all white faces on election day. But as the community continues to grow, that’s changing.

After Castillo and Morales wrap up, Dulce Santana takes them both aside. She has questions about the citizenship test. After tonight’s training, she’s finally thinking about starting the process, hopefully in time for November. 

Saturday afternoon from 1-3, a group called Vote Now Hispanics hosts a voter registration drive at Iglesia Vision Misionera El Arca on 265 Maple Street in Manchester. 

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