Founded in 2004 to focus on “Latino issues,” Voto Latino (VL) describes itself as a “non-partisan organization” dedicated to “bringing new and diverse voices into the political process by engaging youth, media, technology and celebrities to promote positive change.” VL’s primary objective is to mobilize Latin-Americans to become registered voters and political activists who will “speak out and take action on policies impacting their lives.” As of February 2013, VL claimed to have registered more than 120,000 voters of Latino heritage.
Noting that half of all eligible Latino voters are under the age of 40—and a third are between 18 and 34—VL strives to appeal to younger people in particular, on the theory that they (and their descendants) will constitute an increasingly large and influential segment of the U.S. voting population for generations to come. To engage these people, VL relies heavily on the influence of celebrity spokespeople who can effectively carry the organization’s message to young Latinos. Such luminaries include actress Jessica Alba, hip-hop artist Common, actress America Ferrera, actress Carla Gugino, actress Eva Longoria, entertainer Jennifer Lopez, singer-songwriter Demi Lovato, rapper/record producer Pitbull, actress Amy Smart, and actor Wilmer Valderrama.
Notwithstanding its self-identification as “nonpartisan,” VL invariably backs Democratic candidates and left-wing political agendas—as do the vast majority of Latino voters. For instance, the organization endorses measures that would give illegal immigrants access to driver’s licenses, publicly funded healthcare, and social services. Moreover, VL supports the DREAM Act, which would allow illegal-immigrant students to attend college at the reduced tuition rates normally reserved for in-state legal residents, and to earn conditional permanent residency as a stepping stone toward citizenship.
VL actively demonstrated against SB-1070, the 2010 Arizona immigration law. Though the statute included provisions explicitly forbidding racial profiling, VL characterized it as a measure that “condone[s] racial profiling under the guise of immigration reform.” By VL’s reckoning, SB-1070 reflected Arizona’s widespread “spirit of intolerance” and the “unrelenting progression of anti-immigrant sentiment institutionalized by the state.”
VL’s chairwoman is Rosario Dawson, an internationally renowned actress who has starred in a number of high-profile films including Alexander, Clerks II, Death Proof, Eagle Eye, Kids, Men in Black II, Rent, The Rundown, Seven Pounds, Sin City, 25th Hour, and Unstoppable. Her ties to the entertainment industry have made her particularly effective at recruiting big-name celebrities to VL’s cause. Dawson also supports such organizations as Amnesty International; Global Cool (environmentalism); the International Rescue Committee (humanitarian aid); the ONE Campaign (advocates increased U.S. spending on anti-poverty foreign-aid programs); Oxfam; Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays; and Stay Close.org (gay rights).
VL’s president, CEO, and founding executive director is Maria Teresa Kumar, who created and directed the organization’s civic-engagement campaigns. Kumar also negotiated, co-produced, and hosted Beyond Borderlines: Latinos & Immigration, an English-language, prime-time townhall with MSNBC.
VL receives financial support from the California Endowment, the Ford Foundation, the Haas Jr. Fund, the Hunt Alternatives Fund, the Knight Foundation, the Mitchell Kapor Foundation, George Soros‘s Open Society Institute, and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Among VL’s most notable partner organizations are AOL/Huffington Post, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Mi Familia Vota/SEIU, the NAACP, the National Association of Latino Elected Officials, the National Council of La Raza, the New Organizing Institute, Project Vote, and the Young Invincibles.
In 2012 VL held its first annual Voto Latino Power Summit, which was attended by more than 300 young people hailing from 18 U.S. states. Panelists and speakers at the event included public officials, artists, grassroots organizers, business leaders, new-media pioneers, political activists, and community organizers. Among the guest speakers were VL co-chair Rosario Dawson, Tiffany Dufu (White House Project), Ana Patricia Guzman (Telemundo), Dolores Huerta (socialist co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America), and Rosario Marin (former U.S Treasurer). Sponsors of the event included the AFL-CIO and five major corporations.
From March through June of 2012, when Arizona’s SB-1070 immigration law was being hotly debated in anticipation of a Supreme Court ruling on the law’s constitutionality, VL ran an active blog addressing that topic on the Huffington Post website.
 In 2008 Dawson participated in Eve Ensler‘s production, The Vagina Monologues, and she currently sits on the V-Day Board along with Ensler, Jane Fonda, Salma Hayek, Donna Karan, and others. In October 2008 Dawson became a spokeswoman for TripAdvisor.com’s philanthropy program, More Than Footprints, which involved Conservation International, Doctors Without Borders, the National Geographic Society, the Nature Conservancy, and Save the Children. That same month, Dawson joined the RESPECT! Campaign, a movement aimed at preventing domestic violence.