It’s afternoon rush hour on a Friday in the parking lot of Columbia’s Dobbin Center.
Jonathan Hernandez and his Casa in Action canvassing team are starting their shift.
It’s one of two teams working Howard and Anne Arundel counties.
“What we are basically doing is reminding people that there is an election coming up and we are endorsing these candidates,” says Hernandez.
Casa in Action, a Latino voter advocacy group, is taking to the streets this election season in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland, trying to turn out Democratic voters.
The group has endorsed Maryland Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous and here in Howard County, Calvin Ball, the Democrat running for County Executive. Hernandez says they focus on Democratic households.
“It would just kind of throw our canvassers off it we went to Republican households,” Hernandez says. “We did try to go to different parties and they just didn’t work out that well.”
Part of the reason, Hernandez says, is that most of the canvassers are either green card holders or Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals—more commonly known as DACA, and Democrats tend to be more sympathetic to their cause.
Hernandez says Casa has picked Anne Arundel and Howard Counties because "there’s a lot of people who are registered to vote. We try our best to focus on diverse areas as well.”
“That’s a bit surprising,” says Antonio Ugues, professor of Political Science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
Ugues says that Montgomery and Prince Georges counties have much larger Hispanic populations. Hispanics make up less than nine percent of the population in Howard County, compared to nearly 20 percent in Montgomery County.
“It may be an indication of where these strategists can perhaps mobilize the vote that has been untapped in recent years,” says Ugues.
In Howard County, as in Maryland, Democrats outnumber Republicans two to one. Despite that registration edge, voters here have been known to go for Republicans in mid-term elections-- like current County Executive Alan Kittleman, who is running for re-election, says Ugues.
“Especially when the Republican candidates have moderated their position towards the center,” says Ugues. “So that leaves open the possibility to engage with and mobilize Democratic voters.”
The group splits up in their cars and heads off to their canvassing locations.
One group of three canvassers heads into a gated community not far from the shopping center.
Two of the canvassers are high school seniors and not eligible to vote. They asked that their names not be used because they both have green cards and fear trouble from immigration authorities, but they say voting is vital.
“Well people who can vote pick their leaders and so they should educate themselves about the campaigns and go vote,” one canvasser says in Spanish.
Another green card holder who also asked that his name not be used says he is looking to obtain his citizenship like a lot of others in his community.
“I’ve noticed that a lot of people have lived a lifetime in the U.S. 20, 25, 30 years and they have never wanted to become citizens,” says another canvasser in Spanish. “But now that they see how things in this country are they feel desperate to become citizens.”
Canvassers start looking for their first house on their iPads.
To the canvasser’s relief the resident that opens the door to them both speaks Spanish and she says she’s a loyal Democrat.
“I wish I could do what you guys do,” says the resident to the canvasser. “I can imagine a lot of people slam the door on you.”
“Yes it happens but you’ve been very kind to me,” responds the canvasser. “If I’m being honest here in this neighborhood I’m a bit scared to knock on doors, but we have to do it.”
A little while later, they have to leave the block because someone a few doors down threatened to call the police on them for soliciting.