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OC Democrats try workplace ballot parties as a new way to get underrepresented voters to the polls

OC Democrats ballot party
Employees from Sheraton Anaheim and Hilton Anaheim hotels gather to learn about voting in this year’s election during the Unite Here local 11 and Democratic Party of Orange’s “ballot party” to engage underrepresented communities to vote.
(James Carbone)

On a bright Saturday afternoon in February, hotel workers trickled out the sunny parking lot behind a Hilton Hotel in Anaheim during their break.

They were greeted by Ada Briceño — familiar to many as the co-president of Unite Here Local 11, the union that represents hotel workers, including Hilton employees. She’s also the chair of the Orange County Democratic Party.

Todos tienen su paleta?” she asked, standing in front of a sky-blue ice cream truck with a drawing of California Senate candidate Josh Newman on the side and making sure everyone got their frozen treats.

Democrat Newman, who was recalled in 2018 by conservatives angry about his vote for Senate Bill 1, which increased local gas taxes and DMV fees, has since earned the votes to be on the ballot again in November, challenging his successor, Republican Ling Ling Chang.

After confirming that everyone had an ice cream sandwich, Briceño addressed the purpose of the gathering.

“Come out to your polls,” Briceño urged in Spanish.

The occasion was a union-sponsored ballot party. Union leaders, O.C. Democratic representatives, as well as local candidates, were on site to register first-time voters, familiarize people with their local candidates and even collect ballots.

Campaigners had messages also for union members who aren’t citizens.

“If you cannot vote, find out if your children can vote — your relatives, your husband, your wife,” she said.

The event, which Briceño called “a test run for November,” targeted naturalized citizens and children of immigrants who are underrepresented at the polls. The ballot party was the first of its kind by the local Democratic Party to mobilize hotel workers to cast their ballots and demystify the process for first-time voters.

“You know, politics, it’s in the air we breathe, it’s in the schools our children go to, it’s in the food we eat, it’s a part of our daily lives, so whether or not you like it, politics is grabbing you and you’ve got to be able to decide,” Briceño said, before breaking off to greet a union member she hadn’t seen in years to ask if he’d brought his ballot to be collected.

Ballot party
Sergio Contreras, who is running for Orange County Board of Supervisor’s First District seat, introduced himself to local hotel workers during the Unite Here local 11 and Democratic Party of Orange ballot party in February.
(James Carbone)

Westminster City Councilman Sergio Contreras, another local union member who has since qualified to compete against frontrunner Republican Andrew Do for County Board of Supervisors’ First District seat, was also in attendance.

“I’m big on fighting for working people,” he said. “A lot of the population in the first district is a working class community. It’s a very diverse community. The needs are great, and we all share the values of education, housing, healthcare, and we all understand the importance of good jobs.”

For 10 years, Contreras worked at Disneyland, cooking and bussing tables. He followed his father, 43-year member of the Service Employees International Union who works at Disneyland, into the hospitality industry.

“The biggest thing is letting people know that their vote counts, that they matter,” he said. “Because sometimes they feel like, you know, no one is listening to me. Why do it?”

Ballot party
Sandra Rodriguez, an employee for Hilton Anaheim, reads information about voting in this year’s election during the Unite Here local 11 and Democratic Party of Orange ballot party at the Sheraton Park Hotel parking lot in Anaheim.
(James Carbone )

“I always vote, ever since I became a citizen,” Elizabeth Gonzalez, of Anaheim, said in Spanish, ice cream sandwich in hand. With her was a colleague from the housekeeping department, 30-year Hilton employee Norma Medina, of Anaheim, who was getting help registering to vote for the first time.

“Before I didn’t vote,” Medina said in Spanish. “But now, yes. Now it’s urgent.”

“The union has given me more information about everything,” Medina added, professing support for Bernie Sanders, whose campaign sticker she took back to work with her.

“For immigrants, it’s not that people don’t want to vote, it’s the unknown that is hard,” Briceño explained. “They are afraid ... ‘How do I know that I’m picking the right candidates? What if I make a mistake and elect the wrong person? I’d rather not make a mistake.’ ”

Ballot party
Juan Parra, a 20-year employee for Hilton Anaheim hotel, attends the Unite Here local 11 and Democratic Party of Orange ballot party at the Sheraton Park Hotel parking lot in Anaheim in February.
(James Carbone)

Juan Parra, of Anaheim, needed no encouragement to participate in the 2020 elections. He gained citizenship in 2018 and cast his first American ballot in the 2018 midterm elections.

“My dream is, one time, with my three kids, to be able to vote,” said the Michoacan native.

This year will not only be his first presidential election, but the first where all his children are old enough to vote.

“The last four years have been waiting and waiting and waiting, and now it will happen.”

He, his wife Wendy, his two kids and nephew cast votes leading up to March 3.

But previous lack of eligibility didn’t stop him from being engaged.

“I tell them everyday: It’s very important for your life, for your future, for your school, for going to the doctor, for medicine, for rent,” Parra said.

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