For many immigrant workers, the opportunity to naturalize and cast votes for candidates who represent their own interests opens doors to fully participate and integrate into their community. No one understands this better than Karina Renderos.
An immigrant from El Salvador working as a janitor in San Jose, Karina balances two jobs, often working 16-hour days and then coming home to care for her son. Every Saturday morning, Karina spends her rare free time working toward becoming an active and engaged citizen.
"Saturday mornings are the only time I have off and I want to invest in myself,” Karina said.
Two Silicon Valley Community Foundation grantees are working together to help that investment pay off for Karina and others like her by providing opportunities for low-wage service workers to cast informed votes in elections and deepen their community engagement.
Building Skills Partnership (BSP), a nonprofit that seeks to improve the quality of life for low-wage property service workers, and MapLight, a nonprofit that works to inform and empower voters through Voter’s Edge, a nonpartisan online voting guide built in collaboration with the League of Women Voters of California Education Fund, joined forces to bring civic information to janitorial workers in Silicon Valley through BSP’s new Civic Leadership Pilot Class.
“This collaboration benefits both organizations and the community overall,” said SVCF Civic Participation Program Officer Jack Mahoney. “Through participation in our Civic Participation cohort, the Maplight team learned how to improve the Voter's Edge tool to make it easier to use for voters who are busy, who have limited English proficiency, and who are new to voting. BSP provided ideas and connections to underrepresented communities to help MapLight get the tool into the right hands.”
BSP serves low-wage service workers and their families by providing opportunities to increase their skills, expanding access to education and creating opportunities for career and community advancement. In 2018, Silicon Valley Community Foundation awarded BSP a grant of $60,000 to support a new Civic Leadership Training Program that uses online tools to combine voter education and civic leadership. Voter’s Edge proved to be a perfect tool to complement the program, providing unbiased voting information in both English and Spanish.
In 2015, Karina realized her dream of becoming an American citizen. Since her naturalization, Karina has engaged in the most fundamental form of participation: voting. She participated in BSP’s Civic Leader Training Program and has become an enthusiastic voting advocate, using Voter’s Edge to help her navigate the election process and access unbiased voting information in her native language on her mobile phone. "Becoming a citizen is not just an opportunity, it's an achievement. It allows us to make a change in this country,” she said. “If you can achieve becoming a citizen, you can achieve your other goals too."
In the lead up to the 2018 election, SVCF awarded MapLight a $100,000 grant to expand Voter’s Edge in Silicon Valley. The investment proved powerful -- Voter’s Edge served 1.67 million people in the month leading up to the election, far more than the 1 million served during the same time period in the 2016 election cycle. On the local level, one in seven voters in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties turned to Voter’s Edge for their voting information — including over 16,000 local Spanish speaking voters.
In a survey, 77 percent of users reported that they would vote for more offices and leave fewer blank as a result of the information found on Voter’s Edge, an increase from 74% in 2016.
SVCF recently renewed support of both organizations, awarding BSP a grant of $60,000 to scale its Civic Leadership Program, and awarding MapLight $50,000 to expand and improve Voter’s Edge in advance of the 2020 election.
MapLight President and Co-Founder Daniel G. Newman is thrilled that BSP is using Voter’s Edge to amplify their impact in Silicon Valley: “I’m proud that Voter’s Edge is being used to make it easier for these new citizens to fully participate into our community and have a voice at all levels of government.”
“To truly achieve the bold changes required to ensure all Silicon Valley residents have a place in our democracy, we need organizations like MapLight and Building Skills Partnership to work on solving challenges together,” said Mahoney. “This collaboration demonstrates the value of funding different organizations and connecting them regularly to share updates and improve each others’ projects.”