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Portuguese American Citizenship Project, Turlock California



Many Californians are not registered vote, and too many registered Californians are not voting. The June 2014 election had the lowest voter turnout percentage ever in a California statewide election. The Portuguese American Citizenship Project (PACP) is a non-partisan civil rights campaign. They have been working with communities across the United States since 1999 to combat the low voter turnout problem. The PACP encourage people of Portuguese decent to become U.S. citizens, register to vote and turn out on Election Day. The PACP began working with the Our Lady of the Assumption Parish in the City of Turlock in 2002 to increase voter turnout. Parish members identified as American citizens were given resources to help them register to vote, and then sent voting reminder cards. The cards list their polling place and the date of the upcoming election. The resulting voter turnout rate for targeted Portuguese Americans has consistently been higher than the countywide turnout rate.

Program Highlights

  • Surveys determined the citizen/non-citizen ratio among non-registered parish members to better understand the opportunities and constraints of an initiative to increase voter turnout.
  • Portuguese community leaders promoted citizenship, conveyed the importance of registering new voters and conducted get-out-the-vote campaigns. 
  • The impact of the campaign was measured by analyzing before and after counts of the registered voters and voter turnout. This quantitative evaluation approach can be repeated with each subsequent election.

Lessons Learned

  • Despite the significant amount of money spent on elections, some people remain unaware that an election is taking place. This situation is exasperated when campaign materials are in a language the potential voter does not read or speak.
  • Due to the infrequency of voting, many people do not know where their polling place is, what the polling hours are where to find that information. Providing this simple information in a targeted reminder card from a trusted community organization can increase civic participation.  
  • Portuguese communities in California have been successful in asserting themselves politically by pushing voter turnout and hosting candidate nights for local elections. According to Steven Nascimento, PACP Executive Director and City of Turlock Council Member, this is partly due to the fact that Portuguese immigrants in the western United States have integrated into the community more than their eastern counterparts.

More to the Story

The PACP has been working since 1999 to encourage Portuguese Americans to participate fully in civic activities of their communities, become U.S. citizens, register to vote and vote. Activities are based on the assumption that community-based organizations are best able to determine the strategies to increase civic organization. Therefore, the project targets members at Portuguese parishes, clubs and other organizations.

In 2002 the PACP began working with the Our Lady of the Assumption Parish in Turlock. Parish members identified as American citizens were mailed voting reminder cards featuring voting precinct location and date information for the upcoming election. This seemingly simple engagement approach yielded a significant return when the voting rolls were analyzed. Targeted Portuguese American voter turnout was 85 percent during the November 2008 election, and 74 percent during the November 2012 presidential election, compared to 71 percent and 67.5 percent of Stanislaus County voters respectively in those same elections.

In the November 2012 Presidential election turnout rates for Stanislaus County parish members were higher than county residents for voters under the age of 60.

A complete evaluation of the citizenship work conducted in Turlock and elsewhere can be found on the PACP website:

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