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Latino voters: "Los invito" to vote conscientiously

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Voz y Voto America's voiceMaribel Hastings is a senior advisor at America’s Voice:

Last week Craig Romney, son of de facto Republican nominee Mitt Romney, made an appeal to Latino voters in a Spanish-language ad called “Los Invito” (“I Invite You”) to get to know his father better in order to support his candidacy. However, it might be helpful if the candidate actually clarified his positions, on economic issues or immigration, rather than trying to use an ad in Spanish to distract from his evasions. But yesterday, Romney released another commercial, called “País de Inmigrantes” (“Nation of Immigrants”), in which Craig says that his father will work toward a bipartisan solution to immigration — without explaining what that would be. Craig does, however, take the time to remind voters that his grandfather, the candidate’s father, was born in Mexico.  Is that the Romney campaign’s immigration strategy?

The curious thing is that, even in the midst of all this, recent polling points to a very close race between Romney and Barack Obama. There are plenty of explanations to go around: that in the middle of summer voters haven’t yet started to pay attention to the presidential campaign (they’re expected to start in September); that unemployment and a weak economy have people feeling overwhelmed and worn down; that voters just aren’t all that enthusiastic about the electoral process right now.

In this environment, voter mobilization efforts take on new importance, especially efforts to motivate sectors, like Latino voters, who have the potential to tilt the balance in favor of one side or the other in key states (efforts to court Latino voters in states like Virginia that aren’t traditionally Hispanic is evidence of this). But as if low enthusiasm didn’t pose sufficient obstacles for groups trying to register and mobilize voters, recent efforts by some Republican governors to purge the voter rolls in a search for noncitizens has the potential to demotivate many citizens if they are confronted with too many obstacles in attempting to exercise their right to vote.

Despite a complete lack of evidence of widespread voter fraud, some states are looking to purge their voter lists scant months before the election. Civil rights organizations point out that it’s somewhat suspicious that those most likely to be affected by the purge are minority voters in key swing states. Coincidence?

The Department of Justice (DoJ) is tasked with supervising these states’ efforts, and has actually sued Florida, arguing that it has violated federal election law. But after a judge in Florida ruled against the DoJ, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that Florida (and now Colorado) will be able to access a federal database of legal immigrants in order to determine which ones have been naturalized and are therefore eligible to vote. Civil rights groups worry that the likely abundance of errors, and the low likelihood that they’ll be cleared up in time for the upcoming election, will depress electoral turnout, especially among minorities.

To cap it all off, at least 10 Republican-led states are going ahead with laws to require the presentation of certain documents to vote.

Between low enthusiasm and these efforts, the task of mobilizing voters is an enormous one.

A poll released today from Latino Decisions, America’s Voice and the Center for American Progress Action Fund demonstrates that despite the low enthusiasm and obstacles, President Obama has widened his lead over Romney among Latino voters, 70% to 22%, in the wake of the Supreme Court decision on Arizona law SB 1070 and his announcement of administrative relief for DREAMers. Support is even higher — 72% to 19% — among Latino voters who are naturalized citizens, and 76% to 15% among voters for whom Spanish is their dominant language. Thirteen percent of Latino voters who identified as Republicans told pollsters they plan to vote for Obama, while only 2% of Democratic Latino voters said they plan to vote for Romney.

Obviously, Obama has Latino voters on his side. The question is whether they’ll turn out to vote in the numbers he needs to win in the states that will guarantee his re-election. Romney, for his part, is “inviting” voters to support him without clearly explaining why, and the whole of his immigration policy appears to be that his father was born in Mexico.

Speaking for myself, I invite Latinos to vote for whoever seems the best person for the job to them, but to do so conscientiously, and to exercise a precious right that is too often taken for granted.