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Getting Out The Latino Vote The Only Group That Matters In Election: Voters
Getting Out The Latino Vote
Juan A. Figueroa
October 25, 2002
Sila Maria Calderon is giving us a lesson in democracy. The Puerto Rican governor has embarked on an unprecedented, nonpartisan campaign to register hundreds of thousands of Latino voters in 10 key states with large Puerto Rican populations. It is a sophisticated campaign with significant resources and a long-term strategy to engage the Latino voter. The campaign and its theme, ``Que nada nos detenga'' (``Let nothing stop us''), are perfectly timed.
The Florida election debacle is teaching many that our democracy is far from perfect. Civil rights advocates fighting to eliminate the racial and language barriers that plague our electoral system have known this for years. The presence of an outside monitor in Florida in the November elections is a sobering reminder of how far we still have to go to ensure equal access to the ballot box. The Center for Democracy is a highly regarded nonpartisan organization that has monitored elections in El Salvador, the Philippines, Poland, Nicaragua and Russia. It will now add Florida to the list.
Voter apathy and low voter turnout are equally corroding our democratic process. The leading democracy in the world gets away with electing presidents, congressional members and local officials with 49 percent, 36 percent and 10 percent of the vote, respectively. These numbers are clearly not what we showcase when we insist on democratic reform in foreign countries.
And although apathy and low turnout are endemic across the board, Latino communities -- with low income levels and a youthful demographic -- are overrepresented among potential voters absent from the polls. There are 3.4 million Puerto Ricans in the United States -- nearly half of the entire Puerto Rican population -- and of the 1.7 million Puerto Ricans eligible to vote, 642,000 are not registered. There are 79 congressional districts with 10,000 Puerto Ricans or more. There are seven states with a Puerto Rican population of more than 150,000, including key presidential primary states New York, Florida, Illinois and Pennsylvania.
The twin goals of Gov. Calderon's campaign are to generate awareness of the power of the Puerto Rican vote and to register thousands of new voters. It is spearheaded by the Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration in 12 offices -- in Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Hartford, Houston, Miami, Newark, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Springfield, and Washington. The campaign, which was officially launched this summer, has already registered an impressive 75,000 new voters.
To achieve these goals, the commonwealth of Puerto Rico will likely spend $4 million to $5 million a year through 2004. It is significant that a governor of Puerto Rico would take on the task of promoting the enfranchisement of Puerto Ricans living on the mainland. It can only benefit all Puerto Ricans , including those in the commonwealth, if those residing in the 50 states become more engaged in the political process, as we have recently witnessed in the efforts to have the U.S. Navy leave the island of Vieques . Gov. Calderon is making sure our community counts and is counted on Election Day. It is time for other governors to step up to the plate and follow her example.
Such investments are rarely directed at communities of color and have been notoriously missing in the Latino communities. The Democratic and Republican national committees have long targeted soccer moms and blue-collar swing voters with expensive and well-tailored campaigns addressing their concerns. Only recently have the major political parties realized the political potential of the Latino vote. In many instances, Latino voters are determining who is elected.
The Illinois gubernatorial primary is an example of the growing influence of Latino votes. Congressman Rod Blagojevich is today the Democratic gubernatorial candidate (at last count he was ahead by at least 15 points in the polls) because of overwhelming support in Puerto Rican congressman Luis Gutierrez's 4th Congressional District. Gutierrez's district is 70 percent Latino, and Blagojevich received 70 percent of the vote in that district. No other Chicago district performed this well for Blagojevich. Even in his own adjoining district, the 5th, Blagojevich captured only 47 percent of the vote. To win statewide, Blagojevich needed a slice of Chicago. He got it from Latinos in the 4th District.
The election of Michael Bloomberg to mayor of New York City is yet another example and serves as fair warning to challengers and incumbents calling on the support of Latino voters: Camar0n que se duerme se lo lleva la corriente. (A shrimp that falls asleep is bound to be swept away by the current.)
The influence of Latino voters will continue to grow as a result of Gov. Calderon's initiative. This will strengthen not only Latinos, but democracy as well. And that is good for all of us.
Juan A. Figueroa is president and general counsel of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund in New York City. He served as a Democratic state representative from Hartford from 1988 to 1993. His column appears the fourth Friday of every month. To leave him a comment, please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Only Group That Matters In Election: Voters
October 9, 2002
When it comes to voting, every group wants to be the one on which the election will hinge. As we draw closer to the Nov. 5 election, you'll be hearing and reading more about this.
The most recent example was last weekend, when Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill McBride opened a Hispanic-outreach office in Osceola County, which is 30 percent Hispanic. At the same time, Gov. Jeb Bush reached out to black voters, with whom he has had a rocky relationship during the past four years.
For both candidates it seems a little late in the campaign to be making such overtures, wouldn't you say? But actually, they're just in time.
Early in the campaign, candidates are busy cementing the votes of people who are likely to vote for them anyway, making sure they don't wander to another candidate or another party.
They throw "red meat" to followers in an effort to rile up some fervor.
"Vouchers!" says Bush, and the crowd in the coliseum goes "Rahhhhhhh!"
"Teachers!" says McBride, and the crowd in a different coliseum yells back, "Arghhhhhh!"
This allows the party faithful to show their fangs, so they can go out and clobber the opposition while the candidate desperately figures out what to do next.
However, when the homestretch comes around -- and with just 27 days to go before Election Day, this is the homestretch -- things start to take a different turn. Now is the time when candidates modify their messages in an attempt to leave no vote behind, especially among groups who are least likely to vote for them.
The most common refrain you will hear is: "Every vote is important."
That's why McBride went to Osceola to pry a few Hispanic votes from Bush, who appears to enjoy a lead with Hispanics statewide. Bush, meanwhile, attempted to shore up support among black voters, an unprecedented 14 percent of whom cast ballots for him in 1998.
That 14 percent may be unattainable this year, given the 2000 presidential-election debacle and Bush's repeal of racial preferences. But Bush has to try to leave no vote behind.
The groups being courted love it because the attention makes them feel special, sought after. Everyone likes to think that their group holds the key to an election.
But it wouldn't be smart to let this go to your head. The reality is, no one group holds the key to an election, because the only group that can claim this privilege is voters.
If you don't vote, then you don't hold the magic ballot, and your color or ethnicity doesn't matter much.
It's a sad fact that 50 percent or more of U.S. citizens do not vote, leaving a minority of citizens to make decisions for everyone else.
Among this minority of voters there is, however, a pecking order.
People who vote in primary elections are at the top of the pyramid, because they are likely to vote in each and every election. In addition, people older than 45 are likelier to vote than people younger than 30. Republicans are more consistent voters than Democrats.
And non-Hispanic whites are far likelier to vote than blacks or Hispanics -- even in so-called minority districts.
You, too, can join this special group and be the one to decide the next election. But, first, you have to vote.