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Voting is the Only Option

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BxmjGdSIIAA-zSaFrustration and anger can translate into inaction and paralysis, or they can fuel change. I prefer the second option because if participation of Hispanics in elections were equivalent to our population numbers, we’d be in a very different place, especially if we voted in larger numbers on every level, not just in the presidential elections, and if we did so conscientiously.

If we consider the White House’s postponement of executive actions to protect millions from deportation, and if we also take into account the record deportations of this Administration, as well as the actions and inaction of past administrations and Democratically-controlled Congresses, and we add the factor of Republicans blocking immigration reform and demonizing immigrants, we realize why those Latino voters for whom immigration is a priority are between a rock and a hard place.  They’re stuck between Democrats who take their support for granted and Republicans who don’t care about the Hispanic vote.

On Sunday in Iowa Hillary Clinton, who could potentially seek the Democratic nomination for president, was confronted by DREAMers and asked about the delay in immigration executive action. Her response was, “we need to elect more Democrats.” Doesn’t she know that Latinos have already elected more Democrats and they’re still waiting for immigration relief for friends and family?

Without a real third option, where do we go?

There’s not a simple answer, but that doesn’t mean we throw in the towel. If you’re a citizen, let your conscience tell you which party to register with (registering independent is always an option, as is voting for a candidate, not a party). If you’re a permanent resident who is eligible, become a citizen and register. Vote and don’t throw away your vote. Demand results and show that your suffrage elects or un-elects politicians.

If Latinos voted our potential, politicians would think twice about using us so conveniently.  It would be harder for Democrats to get to the White House and then put us at the end of the line of priorities, and for Republicans to use us as scapegoats to gin up their ultra-conservative base.

For years Democrats have done as they pleased with our community because they figure that Latinos don’t have an alternative. The other option is not to vote and that doesn’t help us.

One of the major problems is low turnout in midterm elections, which determine the balance of power in Congress. The practice is voting in presidential elections (and not even at the level that we should be voting) and ignoring the elections that determine who represents our interests in Congress. Both are important.

The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) estimates that 7.8 million Latinos will vote this November 4th, a jump of almost 19 percent in comparison to the midterm election in 2010, but a 25 percent drop from the almost 11.2 million Hispanics who voted in the presidential election of 2012.

Our vote is growing, but not to the extent that it could. Just look at the statistics: NALEO projects that in the 2014 election cycle there will be 25,526,000 Latino citizens of voting age; 12,861,000 will be registered and 7.8 million will vote. This represents 8 percent of the electorate when Hispanics make up 17 percent of the population and 11 percent of those eligible to vote.

In the 2012 presidential election, there were 23,329,000 Latino citizens of voting age; 13,697.000 were registered and 11,188,000 voted.

Each month more than 60,000 Latinos turn 18 and are eligible to vote. Among those thousands are young people with undocumented parents or family members who have grown up seeing both parties avoid immigration reform and win elections without any relief for their loved ones.

The problem of not reaching our potential doesn’t just fall on us, whether it’s because of apathy, cultural factors or lack of information. What’s needed is more educational and voter mobilization campaigns, especially in states that aren’t traditionally Hispanic.  The political parties themselves have done a poor job of courting and mobilizing that vote. On top of that is that fact that the Voting Rights Act is under attack. The Supreme Court has now allowed states and localities to make changes to voting practices without prior federal authorization, which could facilitate electoral discrimination. It’s calculated that 7 million eligible Latino voters live in areas without adequate voting rights protections.

But inaction isn’t the answer. The slowdown of executive action on immigration or the lack of immigration reform legislation won’t be solved by just complaining about it.

Arturo Vargas, executive director of NALEO, summarizes it this way:

“As a voting community, we need to understand ‘hardball politics’ and recognize that legislative goals do not occur overnight.  We need to engage as voters for the long haul, and play hardball too.”

Maribel Hastings is a Senior Advisor at America’s Voice