This story is part of our DACA entrepreneurs series.
Antonio Valdovinos’ work combines military precision and the relentlessness of a machine with care and understanding for the community. He can escalate a voter mobilization initiative from three people to a team of hundreds of young canvassers in a matter of weeks. He and his team start conversations with overlooked, low-propensity voters in majority Latino districts, translating that educational effort into votes.
“I’m constantly thinking about how to innovate campaigning and to work more aggressively, effectively and efficiently,” Valdovinos says with enthusiasm.
Other campaigns send a mail piece or run a TV ad and expect them to vote, but not us
Ironically, as a DREAMer, Valdovinos cannot vote. But he can compel others do so. And along the way, he creates his own job and jobs for others.
Valdovinos started La Machine Political Strategies in 2014 when he recognized the need for better organizing and campaigning.
His first campaign was helping Daniel Valenzuela attain a seat on the Phoenix City Council. At the time, Valdovinos saw the threat of Russell Pearce, who introduced several anti-immigrant laws in Arizona. Along with friends, Valdovinos created a group of canvassers called Team Awesome, which increased the vote 480 percent in the district and gave the win to Valenzuela. With this work, the DREAMer found his true calling.
As a teenager, Valdovinos wanted to be a Marine. But when his undocumented status prevented him from enlisting, he used military-inspired ideas to innovate campaigning and electoral work. He says the values of the Marines – “honor, courage, and commitment” – are always present in his work.
That combination of passion, experience, and reflection has served him well. He has helped elect mostly Latinos and women at all levels of government. He is especially proud of helping elect Isela Blanc, the first former undocumented person to be elected to the Arizona House of Representatives.
Valdovinos’ success rate is 83 percent. In many cases, his supported candidate won against powerful Republicans whose campaigns were funded with millions of dollars.
With La Machine, Valdovinos has participated in elections and ballot initiatives in Illinois, Arizona, and Nevada. He sees his work in Arizona as especially important since so much is at stake. “It’s very dangerous when you lose an election,” he explains. That’s what motivates him to keep going.
“If you do run a search of the voting files in [Arizona], there are thousands of Latinos and Latinas who are not voting, mainly between the ages of 18 to 46 years old,” Valdovinos says. “We found that it is not an ignorance problem; it is an educational problem. It’s important to go out in the field and speak our people’s language. Other campaigns send a mail piece or run a TV ad and expect them to vote, but not us. We want to do the real job of talking and educating people.”
“Voting is so complicated and intimidating for many,” he continues. “It is almost impossible to expect a single mother of two children to research all the information contained in the ballot. We reach out to people like them and explain. We make sure they sign and date their envelope correctly. In reality, we educate people.”
Many politicians seek out La Machine. However, Valdovinos says, “we are very selective on who we work with because we want to support candidates who support our values. We need fighters in government, not talking heads.”
Would he consider working with a Republican? “Absolutely! I do not believe we need to have an alliance with a party, because we want to have our options open.”
La Machine was the first campaign to make the transition to all-electronic canvassing. It required a bigger allocation of money, but it paid off when the volunteers dedicated their time to canvassing instead of just inputting data into the database.
What is the future for La Machine, especially now that DACA is threatened? “Getting in more electoral fights and continuing innovating the work of reaching out to voters,” Valdovinos says.