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5.5 million Latinos voted in the 2006 midterm elections. In the 2008 general election, 10 million Latinos voted. Now, in 2010, some groups calculate that 6.5 million Latinos will turn out at the polls. Next week, we’ll know for sure how accurate that number is. What we know now is that a range of unprecedented efforts to ensure Latino voter turnout is underway—since the Latino vote could be decisive in determining the outcome of many key races throughout the country.
The purpose of our series “March to the Polls 2010” was to capture the attitude of Hispanic voters in key states. Two years ago, they voted at record levels, but in the last two years they have been battered along with the rest of the country by an economy in crisis.
They have suffered higher unemployment rates than the rest of the country. And the promise of immigration reform that would help their families and friends—a promise that was central in motivating many of them to vote in 2008—has yet to materialize. We ran into some Latino voters who were energized, and some who were frustrated; we found many people eager to exercise their right to vote and mobilize others to do so, and others who questioned if their vote could really make a difference. After the election, the experts will take over in analyzing what happened. But neither major party should ignore that the Latino vote, without a doubt, could be essential in continuing their own political careers, or creating a nationally-viable party. And they should note that there are better strategies than marginalizing them, as some have done, or taking them for granted, like others.
LAS VEGAS—In a community center nestled in a Hispanic neighborhood, a long line of voters waits to vote early on Saturday. A series of interviews conducted by America’s Voice confirmed that it’s important to these voters to stop Senate Republican candidate and Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle, who they say has offended them and promotes an anti-Hispanic agenda. Angle is challenging incumbent Harry Reid, leader of the Democratic majority in the Senate.
On Sunday, during a neighborhood canvass by volunteers from The Hispanic Institute, which promotes early voting and voting on November 2nd, we ran into a Hispanic youth sending used goods from his patio. She won’t be voting.
“I don’t like the candidates and I don’t know why I should vote if nothing’s going to change. I’ve been out of work for two years,” she said. She’s part of the 15% of the population of Las Vegas, and 14% across Nevada, who are unemployed.
The task facing civic groups, interest groups, and politicians is to maintain the support of Hispanic voters and convince apathetic would-be nonvoters. They are literally sweeping the neighborhoods of Nevada with door-to-door visits and phone calls to guarantee that Latinos vote.
For John Tuman, associate professor of political science at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, “in the Reid-Angle race, Latino participation is really critical.”
The race is tightened by the high unemployment rate and the wave of foreclosures plaguing the state.
Immigration always arose as a hot topic in interviews with voters, especially recently-naturalized citizens—who in 2008 in Nevada gave 76% of their support to Barack Obama, who promised them immigration reform.
Surprisingly, all of them said that “everything takes time.”
“We have to give the president time to get the country turned right-side-up again, because they left it face down. We have to give him a chance,” one voter said.
“The morale is low and I worry that a lot of Hispanics won’t turn out to vote, and it’s very sad,” another confessed.
Ironically, Angle and some of her allies seem to be mobilizing the Latino vote in Nevada these days, thanks to some of their actions.
“The Latino electorate is beginning to get energized and in my opinion, it’s a reflection of the negative publicity from Angle about undocumented workers and immigrants; her comments at the school (about how some Hispanics looked Asian to her); and, more recently, the backlash that the campaign telling Latinos not to vote has generated,” Tuman confirmed.
In 2004, Latinos constituted 10% of eligible voters in Nevada. In 2008, they were 13%; this year they have risen to 14%.
“Latino voters have the potential to tip the balance in the Reid-Angle race,” Tuman asserted.
Not so in the gubernatorial race between Republican Brian Sandoval and Democrat Rory Reid—Sandoval’s lead is too big.
“What we’ve seen up until now is that the numbers of Democrats and Republicans who have voted early are very similar. Latino participation will be important, but you can’t rule out the influence of independent voters,” Tuman added.
“There isn’t a huge enthusiasm gap because if there were, we’d see higher rates of Republicans participating in early voting. Independent support for Republicans isn’t near the levels it would have to be at to make a difference for Angle. If early-voting patterns continue, it’s possible that Reid will prevail in the election,” Tuman predicted.
The effort to mobilize the Latino vote in Nevada is considerable.
The Hispanic Institute is operating full steam ahead to promote early voting, which in Nevada ends on Friday, October 29th.
“In one year, the Institute registered 10,223 people here in Las Vegas alone, in Clark County,” said Artie Blanco, state director of the Hispanic Institute. Now they have to bring them out to vote.
In one of the neighborhoods visited by Hispanic Institute volunteers, one Latino, who was registered as a Republican, announced that he was voting for Reid. He also prefers Rory Reid over Sandoval “even though he’s Hispanic, because from what I’ve read and heard about him he isn’t very good for us.”
In another community center, volunteers made phone calls to potential voters.
One of the volunteers will be voting this year for the first time. “For us immigrants, the battle against those who don’t want us around doesn’t have to be with marches, it can be with votes—the most powerful weapon we have in our hands.”
PHOENIX – Can Latino voters alter the outcome of the governor’s race between Republican Jan Brewer and Democrat Terry Goddard, and other state-level fights?
For political science professor John Garcia, the answer is in the level of participation of Hispanics in the upcoming elections. Latinos represent 30% of the population in Arizona and 15% of the electorate.
“Immigration has mobilized the Latino community to register and vote. The question is what level of enthusiasm there will be because the Republican Party isn’t an alternative for the Latino community, but at the same time some believe that the Democratic Party is not doing enough on the immigration issue,” Garcia said to America’s Voice.
“Maybe it’s not a question of whom Hispanics are going to support, but at what levels they will vote,” he added.
High turnout would benefit the Democrats.
PHOENIX – In Arizona, the epicenter of the immigration debate, home to Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and birthplace of the anti-immigrant bill SB 1070, one would expect that Latino voters would turn out at the polls on November 2nd against candidates who support that law and the rhetoric promoting it. That remains to be seen.
The leading candidate in the campaign for governor is Republican Jan Brewer, who signed SB1070 into law, generating fear and controversy as well as a legal battle involving the federal government. Arizona’s appeal of a federal judge’s injunction of certain clauses of the law will be heard in November.
Her opponent, Democrat Terry Goddard, makes an appeal in Spanish with an ad saying: “I ask for your vote this November 2nd.” The announcer adds, “this November 2nd, enough with Jan Brewer.
Several organizations want to ensure Hispanic participation by making calls to promote early voting; making door to door visits and holding events; or ensuring voters make it to their polling places on November 2nd.
Puente Arizona held an early voting event on a Saturday. Under a hot sun, music, and the presence of a handful of Democratic candidates, many voted.
One youth, Héctor Hernández, voted for the first time “because of the (immigration) laws they’re passing.” “Although it doesn’t affect me personally, I know many people who are suffering and feel it is my job as a citizen to vote for this change.”
His message to young people: “If you don’t like what’s going on, sitting and complaining about it won’t solve anything.”
Celia Arámbula always votes, and said the immigration debate “woke up the people who had not made the connection that the things affecting us are rooted in politics.”
Corina Díaz voted “because of the situation our community is in.” Obama has not fulfilled his promise to pass immigration reform, “but that’s why this election is important because we need to elect people who support this reform.”
The Comité de Defensa del Barrio (CDB) was encouraging people to vote.
“Our people are responding. There are people who had never been registered before and now they are,” said Jorge Martinez, of the CDB.
In another part of the city, Mi Familia Vota mobilized several teams of young volunteers to go door to door to ensure that Latino voters, who are less likely to vote, cast their ballots. Mi Familia Vota has registered more than 25,000 voters in a period of three months.
Particularly striking is the large number of young people involved.
Sheila Silverio, a volunteer for Mi Familia Vota, said, “It’s my first time voting. Many people tell me that their vote doesn’t count, but I tell them that if they don’t like SB 1070, they have to vote. I’m a teenage mother and I’m doing this for my son because I know there are many children who will suffer under SB 1070. “
Laura Catalina Reyes is in the process of becoming a citizen, but volunteers with Mi Familia Vota. “Many people have the power, and I try to encourage them because it’s necessary to change the system. My mom has never voted and will now for the first time.”
The next day, Sunday, the youth of Mi Familia Vota returned to the trenches. We joined one of the teams to talk with voters.
“These are Latino voters that if it weren’t for us coming to their door, maybe they wouldn’t vote,” said Mi Familia Vota’s Francisco Garcia.
The deadline for registration has passed, “but SB1070 was a motivation for them to register because it’s an attack close to home.”
Some voters were certain that the way the candidates handle the issue of immigration will be a factor in deciding whether to vote.
“I disagree with SB 1070,” said one voter. “One of the reasons why I’ll vote is because there are better solutions to the immigration problem. She (Brewer) shouldn’t have done it. It has caused many problems for Arizona. And she signed it,” he said.
In another home, Saúl opened the door, saying he will vote because even though he is a citizen, “SB 1070 affects my family because many of them are undocumented and live in fear of being deported.”
In the next house hung a sign that read “No to Arpaio and SB 1070.” An Anglo woman, who turned out to be a California resident and voter, opened the door. It was her mother’s house.
She thanked the group for their effort to mobilize Hispanic voters and added:
“If Latino voters registered and voted, we could regain control of this state.”
DENVER – In the 2008 presidential election, 61% of Colorado’s Latino voters favored Democrat Barack Obama over Republican John McCain. A state that had voted Republican in the three previous general elections swung into the Democratic column, spurring Obama’s triumph.
Hispanics represent 20% of the nearly 1 million people in Colorado, and make up 10% of the electorate in the state.
Get-out-the-vote efforts for early voting or voting in person on Nov. 2 are in full swing.
As in the rest of the country, the economy and unemployment are critical issues in a state with an unemployment rate of 8%. Among Latinos, unemployment is over 11%.
But immigration also plays a central role. Colorado is home to generations of Hispanics as well as immigrants naturalized in 2008–who voted for the first time motivated, among other things, by a promise of immigration reform which still hasn’t been realized.
Ernesto Sagás, associate professor of Ethnic Studies at Colorado State University, said that “immigration has been an important issue. The economy is a major issue, and the other one is immigration. But apparently it has not motivated Latinos as it has in California and Arizona. What has motivated them is the economy. Immigration is one of those issues that people argue about a lot, but when it comes to voting, people vote their pocketbooks.”
Where the Latino vote may be most influential, Sagás said, is in the Senate race between Democrat Michael Bennet and Tea Party Republican Ken Buck–even though the economy, not immigration, has been the central theme.
“Bennett’s campaign has made great efforts in seeking out the Latino vote, at least in northern Colorado, and it’s because they need it,” he said.
DENVER – It’s not every day one comes across this scene: two Dominican immigrant voters conducting a voter mobilization drive in the neighborhoods of Denver, Colorado. Their targets are largely second, third and fourth-generation Hispanics, and naturalized citizens who will vote for the first time on November 2nd.
Jackie Garza and Wendy Peterson move steadily; they are in a hurry to cover as many households as possible. They visit an average of 20 to 40 houses per hour, depending on the location. Their aim is to contact young voters, many who voted for the first time in 2008 or who registered recently, and voters in low-turnout-tendency demographics.
Both are volunteers with Mi Familia Vota, one of several national organizations that has been given the task of registering voters and ensuring they vote early or on November 2nd.
These organizations are spending $ 5.4 million toward efforts to mobilize the Latino vote across the country, particularly in states and districts with close contests where Latino voters could be decisive.
Jackie says that the economy and education are key issues for Hispanic voters in Colorado, but so is immigration. “For me it is very important because I am an immigrant, my parents are immigrants, my family are immigrants, and the United States is based on immigrants.”
In one of the homes we visited, the woman who answered said that “jobs are important, and I also think they have to deal with immigration. We’ve found ourselves in this predicament and now we have to fix it, but not at the expense of people who are only trying to look out for themselves and their families. The people here are not criminals and should have the opportunity to become citizens.”
The candidates’ positions on immigration, she said, will be a factor in deciding for whom she will vote.
Between houses, Wendy comments that she has come across Hispanic voters who “are not very happy with Obama.”
“They fell in love and were disappointed.”
Precisely because immigration reform has not yet passed, she says, the issue is still important to these voters.
“Most people with legal status have family members and friends without documents and wish that they, too, could realize their dreams of being in the country legally. This issue is mobilizing people because families want to be together,” says Wendy.
In another part of town, in a Mexican restaurant, the young, 18 year-old Hispanic waitress says she’s not certain whether she’ll vote because the candidates are focusing too much on personal attacks and not on explaining their platforms.
Her concern is about jobs, but immigration and the DREAM Act are important because she has undocumented friends “and I don’t want them to be stopped or something and sent back to Mexico.”
Diana, who owns a taco stand, tells us her motivation for voting is that “we want help with immigration, the economy, health and education, but most of all immigration. We don’t like the laws that are being passed. There’s a lot of prejudice.”
In one home in the neighborhood Jackie and Wendy visit, Ricardo says shyly that he became a citizen recently, registered and will be voting for the first time in November.
His motivations are “the economy and immigration.” “Let’s fix everyone’s status if we can… hopefully they all can get legal status, too.”
A woman with legal residency living in the same house adds: “I have friends and family who do not have their papers. Hopefully (reform) will happen, and it will be real. And, not just another promise.”
MIAMI / ORLANDO – In the 2008 general election, Florida went into the Democratic column for the first time since 1996, catapulting Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States.
The Hispanic vote was instrumental. Now, on the threshold of the mid-term election on November 2nd, groups aim to mobilize the Latino vote thinking not only of this election, but also the 2012 general election which will determine whether or not Obama is reelected.
Latinos represent 21% of Florida’s population and 13% of the electorate, and the question is what role they will play in electing a governor, U.S. Senator and members of the House of Representatives, along with other state and local contests.
Dr. Darío Moreno, director of the Metropolitan Center at Florida International University, offered America’s Voice the following analysis of the Latino vote in the Nov. 2nd election in the Sunshine State:
“I think the Latino vote is divided at the moment, and the Cuban-American vote is going to go very strongly for the Republican Party. In 2008, for the first time, over 40% of Cubans voted for the Democratic Party. But this year, they’ll be lucky if they get 20%. Cubans are very upset with the Obama administration’s policies and are very motivated to get out and vote, among other things, because of the presence of Marco Rubio on the ballot,” said Moreno.
“Cuban voters will vote, in very high numbers, for Republican candidates: Rubio (U.S. Senate) and Rick Scott (governor)”, among others, he said.
“Non-Cuban voters have no motivation to go out to vote: one-third of them support the Democrats, one-third support Republicans, and one-third are undecided,” he added.
MIAMI / ORLANDO – Will voter discontent translate into more or fewer Latino votes on Nov. 2? Which party will benefit? Will Latino voters offer any surprises in Florida?
In Miami, several interviewees said they would vote. They are motivated by the economy, unemployment, the mortgage crisis, health issues and taxes. Some said that immigration, while important, was not their main motivation for voting; for others, the topic defines the parties.
Many Republicans seem to be motivated—among them husband-and-wife entrepreneurs Michael and Maria Vazquez.
“Everyone is very motivated, there is general repudiation, people are angry, disenchanted,” said Miguel. And the discontent will ensure that people vote.
They have chosen Republicans Marco Rubio,for U.S. Senate and Rick Scott for governor.
“Cubans support immigration, but in an orderly and legal manner, and I think Scott is looking for that path,” he said.
“Rubio thinks like Cubans: immigration should be legal, everyone should speak English; he’s conservative and is a person of values.”
María, his wife, said: “I’ve been here 50 years and I’ve never seen a movement like the Tea Party, or so much disappointment.” But according to María, “the Tea Party is positive. It’s a massive protest.”
She supports Rubio, but doesn’t know if she’ll support Scott.
The owner of an upholstery shop also assured us that he plans to vote, and said that “there’s a lot of buzz because there is a very violent struggle between Republicans and Democrats.”
“But I don’t get too wrapped up with that. If the Democrats win, they win. If the Republicans win, I’ll still have my business. I’ve had it for twenty years and have been a whole string of Presidents”
He added that he doesn’t like Obama much, “but the truth is that the president has had too many things on his plate”.
Another voter said “the truth is that they left the country so bad for Obama that the man is trying to do the best he can.”
But he’ll vote for Rubio “because he is young and the other two don’t convince me.”
In Orlando, part of the I-4 corridor–where the Hispanic vote was vital for Obama’s victory in 2008–we found ourselves in another community hurt by unemployment and foreclosures, but we also saw large communities of undocumented immigrants, and greater empathy for the issue of immigration reform.
Yanidsi Vélez, a community activist who works with Democracia Ahora and other groups, explained that in Central Florida there’s a lot of frustration “because progress has not been immediate.” But “Latinos will vote for two reasons: disappointment and hope.” “The majority understands that change is not immediate, and these are the ones who will vote and can call on others to vote,” she added.
The challenge, she says, is to turn out those who voted for the first time in 2008 when they see that many things have not materialized. Newly-registered voters are also a challenge.
“Older Puerto Ricans do vote. It’s the young Latino vote that we are looking for now,” she said.
During an event at Valencia Community College in Kissimmee, Mirna, an elderly Puerto Rican voter, said “I will vote to see if the changes the Democrats promised will become a reality, because we’re getting really tired of this. But I know they must be given time to make changes. ” She supports Meek and the Democratic candidate for governor, Alex Sink.
Ana Navarro, a Republican strategist, said it’s on the I-4 corridor that Meek and Sink should win support from Hispanic voters if they make themselves known effectively in these last few weeks.
“The one with the best record for the I-4 corridor would be Meek, who supported Sonia Sotomayor (for the Supreme Court) when Charlie Crist opposed her, and has consistently supported immigration reform,” said Navarro.
Neither Scott nor Sink are well known in the Hispanic community, “so everything will depend on who makes themselves known and who has a better message in these last weeks.”
Rubio, Navarro said, “just needs to keep his Republican base together to win.”
Danny, a Puerto Rican, voted in 2008 but will not vote this year because “be it Republicans or Democrats, they’re the same and I will not waste my time voting for people who are not going to do anything.”
Camerina, a Mexican, was visiting Orlando; although she still can’t vote, she’s urging her family and others to do so. “Disappointment should not be a reason not to vote. My message is not to abstain. “
This series was written by Maribel Hastings, senior advisor and analyst at America’s Voice