Maria Teresa Kumar of Voto Latino talks about the 2012 election, social media and why both parties are failing Hispanics.
Maria Teresa Kumar is the founding executive director of Voto Latino, a non-partisan group created in 2004 with the mission to find, register, and turn out young Latino voters in the United States. With Latino Americans poised to make up a considerable slice of the swing-state electorate this year, plenty of operatives on both the right and left are eagerly watching to see which they'll fall. But Kumar and Voto Latino are after something longer term. With Kumar in Austin to talk at SXSW about social media's ability to shape a political contest, we talked by phone about online experimentation's lessons for converting trending topics into action, how President Obama made this election personal, and what it will take to convince Democrats and Republicans to pay attention to Latinos after Election Day. This interview has been condensed and edited.
In 2006, you focused on using text messages to reach out to Latino potential voters. What does that outreach look like in 2012?
Since 2004, we've seen an evolution in technology. Up to this point it has always been about what's next on the horizon that's going to be the game changer. Now we have a toolbox. Not only do we have text messaging, we have Facebook. On Facebook alone you have have 11 million U.S. Hispanics. And then you also have Twitter. In the 2008 election, Twitter was just getting started. All of the sudden you have all these different tools. What we're trying to do is to figure out how you mix them into a seamless experience. What I mean by that is, for example, not only are we creating a Voto Latino app, with that same tool you're going to be able to fill out a voter registration form so that you never have to leave your Facebook network. The way we're using Twitter is that we have roughly 30 celebrities where among their social networks they account for roughly 38 million fans.