Los Angeles, United States

Mobilize the Immigrant Vote!

PILA, Partnership for Immigrant Leadership and Action

November 18, 2008

Citizenship training and political participation coming together for new immigrant voices

California is the leading destination for immigrants to the US. The state receives more than 325,000 new arrivals each year and the current immigration population exceeds 9.9 million and represents 27.2 per cent of all residents in the state – making immigrants and visible minority communities a potentially powerful political force.

But how do you mobilize an immigrant population that speaks more than 250 distinct languages? Or often lives and works in geographic and ethnic clusters? And who frequently has very little contact or communications with each other-even when their concerns are similar and overlap.

This was the challenge that the Mobilize the Immigrant Vote (MIV) campaign was seeking to overcome: building cross community relationships while addressing the concern and implications of poor voter turnout among these groups.

In the 2000 general election, non-Hispanic White citizens comprised 48% of the state’s population but represented 71% of those who had voted. This meant that for every ten immigrants eligible to vote, approximately six registered but only three actually cast a ballot.

This disparity was a cause of concern. The state of California frequently uses polls to decide major public policy issues and in recent years, California voters have endorsed several initiatives that have been especially harmful to immigrants such as a bailout initiative designed to limit access to social services, health care and public education. In addition, there was a growing awareness that until voter turnout in immigrant groups improved, politicians were not going to be accountable or focused on the issues that affected them.

The MIV 2004 Campaign was the first-ever state-wide electoral campaign specifically focused on developing a multi-ethnic coalition of community based organizations working within immigrant communities and building their capacity to register, educate and mobilize their constituents for electoral participation.

The MIV campaign was led by a collaborative of six immigrant rights and anti-poverty organizations that recognized that elections work is a key strategy in the broader, long term movement for social justice.

MIV successfully supported and connected the efforts of 112 organizations working in 15 diverse ethnic communities, in 17 California counties in order to increase the civic participation of immigrant groups and bring them together around their shared issues and concerns.

The organizations that joined the MIV campaign forged new relationships with other organizations and mobilized over 1,200 community volunteers, and raised awareness about the importance of the vote in the mainstream and ethnic media.

Through the efforts of the 112 organizations that participated in the 2004 MIV Campaign achieved highly impressive results including:

  • 20,521 + new voters were registered
  • 70,000 + MIV voter rights palm cards were distributed in 7 languages
  • 21,655 + MIV immigrant voter guides were distributed in 7 languages
  • 10,012 + immigrant community members participated in community based voter education events and activities
  • Within the subset of voters contacted by organizations that participated in the MIV, 73% turned out at the polls. 69% of these voters were first times or infrequent voters

These results were replicated in the MIV 2006 campaign. MIV has had tremendous success, engaging immigrants in the nation’s civic process at much higher rates than the average native-born voter. And while the voting rates of immigrants are not proportional to their current population, their overall share of the electorate in recent elections has increased four times as quickly as that of non-immigrant groups. Organizers are hopeful for continued success in the federal US 2008 election.


The Partnership for Immigrant Leadership and Action (PILA) formerly known as the Northern Californian Citizenship Project (NCCP) spearheaded the MIV in 2004. The success of the 2004 MIV campaign supported PILA’s theory of social change that views community based organizations as a critical infrastructure for building grassroots leadership and catalyzing civil and political participation in local communities.

For over six years, PILA has supported immigrant civic and political participation through innovative capacity building programs based on linking diverse community organizations together around movement building elections. This is an approach that sees elections as part of a long-term strategy for making change by focusing on building relationships and energizing communities regardless of election outcomes. It particularly focuses on strengthening organizations and communities by increasing visibility, forging new alliances and building a stronger base of community leaders and volunteers.

Since community based organizations can come together to tap existing relationships, trust and ongoing presence in the community, they are uniquely positioned to educate and mobilize the constituents for elections -however many of them lack the skills, support and tools to do it effectively.

For example, about one third of the organizations that joined the MIV would not have done any election work if not for the MIV and 95% say that want to be part of future MIV campaigns.

Based on these experiences and lessons, in 2006 PILA released the MIV toolkit to support organizations across the country in planning and implementing movement building elections with their immigrant communities and led the capacity building component of the statewide 2006 Mobilize the Immigrant Vote Campaign.

During the recent US federal election, the campaign went state-side with the MIV 2008 campaign actively recruiting the participation of immigrant voters across the country. To support the work of its community based partners across California, the Los Angeles-based MIV Collaborative developed essential multilingual voter education materials, conducted electoral basic trainings and media trainings, organized community based issue analysis forums to decide MIC positions for the immigrant voter guides. The impact of the MIV 2008 Campaign on the outcome of the federal election remains to be tabulated –but the influence of the immigrant vote was significant.

Making it Work for You:

  • Make election organizing part of a long-term strategy for change by focusing on building relationships and energizing communities regardless of election outcomes.
  • All campaigns involve community coordination. Find out whether there is a local election or neighborhood issue that can be used as a call to action to build relationships between diverse communities.
  • Involve participants from diverse organizational roles (e.g. executive and program directors, outreach and organizing staff, and volunteers/emerging community leaders).
  • Create many opportunities for networking and relationship building among participants.
  • Ask yourself whether you could get involved with an issue you care about - but through a different organization that you might normally choose?

For this Good Idea contact:

Mari Ryono, Coordinating Director
M0bilize The Immigrant Vote California, Collaborative, Los Angeles Office
Mobilize the Immigrant Vote
Los Angeles, 2533 W. Third St., Suite 101, United States,
(323) 363-3970