It’s now crunch time at Dominicanos USA headquarters in the South Bronx, where a phone-banking marathon is underway.
After months of canvassing, the organization is in its final push to bring Dominicans to the polls. Since it was founded in 2013, the non-profit has registered more than 140,000 voters.
In one room, ten volunteers sit at small desks making so-called “care calls.” Speaking quickly in English or Spanish, they ask registered voters if they know where their closest polling site is and if they’ll need help getting to the polls.
Eliana Santos directs the phone-banking operation. She says they’re aiming to call 20,000 people in one week – most of them first time voters. It’s down to simple math. In one hour, a volunteer can make about 50 calls, and with 10 volunteers working at once, that’s 500 calls an hour.
“We don’t have to be dialing buttons and everything, we just use a headset with the computer and the calls are made automatically,” said Santos. “Because of the responses from the people, they sound very enthusiastic about going out and vote.
Dominicans are the largest Hispanic group in New York City. The organization uses a statistical model to target Dominican-heavy neighborhoods like Corona, Inwood, Washington Heights and Bushwick. It has focused on millenials and over 45 percent of its registered voters are under age 30.
Eddie Cuesta, the National Executive Director, says he’s seen the Dominican community become more civically active in recent years.
“Dominicans are participating not only in Washington Heights and Inwood but throughout all the communities that they reside in in terms of coming out and voting, in terms of becoming members of community boards, participating more in school activities,” Cuesta said.
But registering to vote isn’t always easy. A recent study the group conducted found one of the greatest barriers to participation is lack of information about candidates and the political process. Omar Suarez, the 27-year-old New York Director for Dominicanos USA, says there are other reasons too.
“A lot of times it might because they don’t feel themselves represented or they don’t feel that people in positions of authority care about them,” he said.
But Suarez emphasizes that that can change if people exercise their vote.
“We’re going to be that family member that’s going to bug you to do it because you know in the back of your mind that this is something you should do not just for you but for your community,” he said.
Back in the phone-banking room, a volunteer checks in with a voter. A mother tells him that her 18-year-old son isn’t registered, and he assures her that they’ll register him in time for the next election.