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In Arizona, voter outreach groups become lifelines for people hit by COVID-19

By Melissa Gomez, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

PHOENIX - When Imelda Quiroz began knocking on doors this month in search of registered voters, one question would often lead to a glimpse of their daily struggles.

"How has the pandemic affected you?" she would prompt in English, sometimes in Spanish. She wanted to get a sense of how voters were doing and what issues were important to them ahead of the November election.

What Quiroz heard was an outpouring from people worried about paying next month's rent, electric or water bills. Parents were struggling with their children shifting to online learning without laptops or internet, she said.

"Many had lost their jobs," Quiroz recalled on a Saturday afternoon as she walked among houses in a predominantly Latino Phoenix neighborhood. While knocking on doors for the nonprofit, nonpartisan group Mi Familia Vota, the Arizonan has met Republicans, Democrats and independents blindsided by the pandemic and economic crisis.

Advocacy groups returning to face-to-face outreach are finding a landscape changed by the coronavirus, and they have become lifelines, through food banks or passing along contacts for organizations that help with rent or utility bills. But often, canvassers said, people just want to be heard.

"When I can, I give them information," Quiroz said, and when she can't, she sympathizes. "Because what they want is to talk."

 

Sometimes it's hard to know how to respond, she said. "Many are hopeless."

In Arizona, a key battleground state, outreach groups fear the crisis could suppress the vote among communities of color focused less on the election and more on surviving.

"We're really a bit concerned that the pandemic is going to have an impact on voter registration and voting among Latinos," said Joseph Garcia, executive director of Chicanos Por La Causa Action Fund, noting the issues facing the community.

Latinos, who are being courted by both presidential campaigns, are often on the front lines of the pandemic as essential workers, and in Arizona they and Native Americans have been hospitalized at higher rates than other groups.

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