By Khalil Abdullah
(New America Media) A consortium of Latino organizations already has registered a quarter-million new Hispanic voters for this election cycle. Their spokespersons estimate that when those numbers are combined with outreach efforts by other organizations, the multiplier effect may bring as many 650,000 new Latino voters onto the rolls by the time registration deadlines close in most states over the next few weeks.
“I understand the difference Latinos voters can make in their communities,” said Nathieli Diaz, a student at University of California-Riverside. She has been helping register voters–“especially because I cannot vote.”
DREAMers Helping Although They Can’t Vote
Diaz is a DREAMer, who came to the United States in her youth, but who is ineligible to vote because she is not a U.S. citizen. She said she is one of the many DREAMers volunteering with registration drives.
“There are so many students like myself whose future lies in the hands of eligible voters,” Diaz said, explaining her motivation to ensure the Latino turnout is high in November.
Diaz stressed that DREAMers “are contributing to this great country” even now. But she added that “all those like myself, who hope to be able to vote someday” are dependent on those who currently can vote.
Predicting the final number of those registered at this early date is difficult because there is no national voter registration database. Also the consortium’s numbers don’t include those Latinos registered by political parties or other initiatives.
Speakers on a teleconference earlier this week did not address the partisan implications of their efforts, but said their collective initiative is laying solid groundwork for their long cherished ambition of finally maximizing the potential of the Latino vote.
Out of an estimated 53 million Latinos in the United States, approximately 23.5 million are eligible voters and about 14 million are registered voters, according Evan Bacalao, senior director of civic engagement for the Educational Fund of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. Bacalo is expecting a turnout of 12 million Latino voters this election.
Latino Vote in Key States
Should Latinos vote as a bloc vote in November, their preferences would be most obviously felt in swing states, such as Colorado, Florida and Nevada. Each of those three went Democratic in 2008, after Republicans had carried them in 2004.
In Colorado, Latinos now account for 20 percent of the population; 22 percent of Florida’s and 26 percent of Nevada’s. Recent polls show Democrats still holding the edge.
Even in states where their populations are smaller, the Latino vote could be a significant factor given what may be a narrow margin of victory.
Virginia, for example is still being counted as a toss-up, but went Democratic 2008 after Republicans carried it 2004. Latinos account for only seven percent of the populace there. In Wisconsin–another state that remains too close to call, although Democrats carried the state in 2008 and 2004–only five percent of residents are Hispanic.
Latino voters also may yet weigh in on Pennsylvania’s electoral outcome, now that its restrictive voter photo ID law has been suspended. That law would have likely reduced the number of Latinos who tend to vote as Democrats.
It would have particularly affected the Puerto Rican community, given the difficulties of retrieving birth certificates from Puerto Rico necessary to get a Pennsylvania photo ID in time for the election.
Parties Courting Latinos for First Time
“For the first time in my memory, the Latino vote is being courted as never before by both political parties,” said Eliseo Medina, board member of the nonpartisan Mi Familia Vota and who also serves as the International Secretary of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
Medina’s enthusiasm is significant. Now in his mid-60s, he has long been a nearly legendary advocate for Latino American rights for decades. He emphasized that this election will have profound implications for post-election policy decisions on the Affordable Care Act, immigration and a host of issues regardless of which political party triumphs.
“Young voters across all backgrounds are one of the most difficult populations to engage, and obviously the Latino community is particularly young, so ensuring that we have a vigorous effort to engage Latino youth is really an integral part of what we’re trying to do this year,” NALEO’s Bacalao said.
He explained that even though social media has been particularly useful in registering young voters, especially by Voto Latino and other collaborative partners, the consortium still relied heavily on traditional get-out- the-vote methodologies, such as phone banks and door-to-door canvassing to reach Latinos of all age demographics.
“Investments in voter registration [in the United States] are not what they should be,” said Clarissa Martinez de Castro, Director of National Campaigns for National Council of La Raza.
She also expressed concern that registration drives have been negatively affected by other factors. “We’re also seeing displacement due to the economic and foreclosure crisis, not to mention efforts to make it more difficult for eligible voters to vote.”
Yet, despite those obstacles, Martinez de Castro echoed the sentiment of others on the call. “Our teams on the ground are telling us, as many other voters, Latinos are starting to pay more attention to the election right now.”
Martinez de Castro said that interest and enthusiasm about the election are driving registration numbers upward, but the ultimate goal is for the continuous post-election engagement that can hold elected officials accountable to the Latino community’s interests.
Other organizations involved in the registration effort include the Center for Community Change, Hispanic Federation, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement and the League of United Latin American Citizens.