Ambriana Williams knocked on doors Saturday in west Modesto, asking residents what issues concern them the most as the country heads toward a highly contested midterm election.
She was part of a group of local community advocates trying to encourage registered voters to speak up on behalf of their predominantly low-income neighborhood; residents who might feel like their votes don’t count.
“You’re going to feel like you don’t matter if you don’t make your voice heard,” said Williams, who canvassed the neighborhood with her husband AAron Williams.
The neighborhood canvassing was organized by Faith in the Valley, a nonprofit group that offers help to underserved residents in Stanislaus County. The group also has chapters in Merced, San Joaquin, Fresno and Kern counties, advocating on behalf of residents on a variety of issues, including increasing rental rates, sub-standard housing and expanding immigration enforcement.
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On Saturday, the group targeted registered voters who hadn’t voted in the last three elections. Those voters in this neighborhood tend to be low-income earners, members of ethnic minorities or millennials, said Andy Levine of Faith in the Valley.
“We believe it’s because they’re never encouraged to vote,” Levine said. “We want to know what are they concerned about?”
In three ZIP codes that encompass the Modesto area, there are about 6,500 registered voters who have not voted in the past three elections, Levine said. The group uses these statistics to find those voters and remind them that there’s an election Nov. 6.
Voters like Tanisha Ryder, who last voted in the November 2016 presidential election. Affordable housing is important issue, because she and her mother are searching for an apartment to rent.
“Any one-bedroom apartment is over $1,000 a month,” Ryder said. “My mother and I both get Social Security, and that’s only $1,700 a month for both of us. How are we going to pay utilities and everything else?”
The Faith in the Valley group was encouraging the voters they encounter to approve Proposition 10, which would allow cities throughout the state to have rent control. The group also was encouraging voters to vote no on Proposition 5, which they say would rob schools and local governments of much-needed tax revenue.
Landlords say Proposition 10 would worsen the state’s housing shortage by discouraging construction of new rental properties. Proponents of Proposition 5 say the law would expand ways people 55 and older, the severely disabled and disaster victims can sell their larger, older homes and keep their relatively low property tax.
Other than that, the Faith in the Valley group was not choosing sides on other ballot measures or candidates. Levine said its focus is not to tell residents how to vote, but to participate in the election process.
“You know that elected officials are paying attention to who votes,” Levine said. “We’re engaging with voters, establishing a connection that should continue year-round.”
Eddie Carmona is the political director of PICO California, the statewide group that oversees the Faith in the Valley local chapters and their efforts. Carmona runs PICO’s field operations and helps train residents before they go out canvassing in neighborhoods.
On Saturday, he encountered one man who moved to Modesto because his rent had climbed to $2,000 a month in Santa Clara. The elderly man, who spoke only Spanish, was interested what Proposition 10 provided. But he told Carmona that ballot measures were complicated, and he struggled to understand how his vote could make a difference.
“We’re talking to our community is what we’re doing,” Carmona said.
The group, however, wants to learn how else it can help these residents, and Saturday’s discussions were just the start. “For us, it would be irresponsible to just say, ‘Go vote for Prop. 10, and that’ll solve all your problems,” Levine said.
Faith in Valley is a grassroots coalition of faith-based groups. Saturday’s group canvassing west Modesto included members of St. Stanislaus Catholic Church and Victory in Praise Church in Modesto. They trained how to use computer tablets that provide maps and addresses of the voters they’re targeting and digital forms to input the residents’ responses.
The majority of the homes in this west Modesto neighborhood, just north of Modesto High School, have front yards encircled by fences. Many of them also have barking dogs standing guard. When groups couldn’t get to a front door to knock, they made a note to pass on to the phone-banking group from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
Levine said Faith in Valley and its volunteers have been canvassing underserved neighborhoods throughout the county four days a week for the past two weeks. That includes a group from the St. Francis of Rome Church, which will be knocking on doors Tuesday in Riverbank.
Saturday was the first time the Williams couple had joined the Faith in the Valley canvassing effort. They got 10 voters to commit to voting this November, including Efrain Garcia, who is 18 years old and has never voted before.
The Modesto Junior College student said this is the first time anyone has come to his home and encouraged him to vote. “It’s great,” he said, “because they’re out here getting people to vote.”