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Hispanic Community Is A Desirable Cipher To Kerry And Bush… Seven Million Latino Voters -- And Counting…Changes Help Spanish-Speaking Voters

Hispanic Community Is A Desirable Cipher To Kerry And Bush


October 22, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

ORLANDO, Fla. - If any conventional wisdom about Florida politics has been rewritten more in the past 20 years, it's that the state's traditionally Cuban-dominated Hispanic community votes solidly Republican.

An influx of Puerto Ricans in central Florida and South Americans in South Florida in recent years has made a cipher out of the voting patterns of this fast-growing voter group desired by both Democrats and Republicans.

Take Isaac Martir.

The 43-year-old Puerto Rican native, who now lives in Orlando, is a registered Democrat. He plans to vote for Democrat John Kerry for president, but Republican Mel Martinez, a Cuban native, for U.S. Senate. He voted for Republican Gov. Jeb Bush in 2002, but cast his ballot for Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore in 2000.

He said he was thinking about voting for President Bush until the United States became entangled in Iraq.

"What's important to me is the candidate ... as long as he's good," said Martir, 43, who retired from his job as a mattress deliverer after he injured his back. "I'm a Democrat, but some Republicans are good."

That's a sentiment voiced by many Puerto Rican voters in central Florida such as Dennis Freytes, a registered Republican of Puerto Rican heritage who often votes for Democrats.

"Puerto Ricans are crossover voters. They don't look at party loyalty," said Freytes, a member of the board of trustees for Valencia Community College in Orlando. "They look at which candidate will represent them best."

Florida's Hispanic population has grown by 477,000 people to 3.1 million since the 2000 election, when Bush won about 80 percent of the Cuban vote. Gore took about 54 percent of the non-Cuban Hispanic vote, according to a survey taken for the National Council of La Raza.

This presidential election, Hispanics are expected to make up 14 percent of Florida's eligible voters, according to a study by the Pew Hispanic Center.

Cubans have been considered a key Republican voting bloc since the 1960s, when President Kennedy was blamed for the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion, and have not trusted Democrats ever since. President Carter's 1978 dialogue with Cuban president Fidel Castro and the raid to seize Elian Gonzalez under the Clinton administration in 1999 added to the sense of distrust, said Dario Moreno, political science professor at Florida International University.

While some Democrats say they've made inroads in the Cuban community - specifically since Bush angered some Cuban-Americans by tightening travel and remittance restrictions to Fidel Castro's communist island - some evidence reflects the GOP still holds tightly to the Cuban vote in Miami-Dade.

Moreno said he knows of two polls that say Cuban-Americans support Bush by near 80 percent, and other polls indicate that Bush approaches a 4-to-1 advantage over Kerry among Cubans in Miami-Dade.

Moreno believes Kerry has conceded the Cuban vote, saying Kerry hasn't visited with Cuban voters when coming to Miami-Dade, instead choosing general events catering to all groups or cementing his base with visits with black and Jewish voters. Kerry's vice presidential candidate, John Edwards, did speak before about 300 Cuban-Americans in August.

"There's a suspicion that whatever your political views are that the Democrats aren't going to cater to this community as much as Republicans have," Moreno said.

Raul Martinez, mayor of the highly-Hispanic city of Hialeah and Kerry's point-man in Miami-Dade, said Kerry would be coming into the "lion's den" by coming to Little Havana. But Martinez said Kerry may be able to wrest some votes from Bush this year. Cuban-Americans in Miami have been critical of Bush, claiming the administration has not done enough to pressure Castro and help foster democracy on the island.

Martinez said some voters are upset at Bush for the new restrictions, which bar Cuban-Americans from visiting family on the island no more than 14 days once every three years. They also cut back on the amount of money Cubans can spend during visits or send to relatives on the island.

Martinez and others acknowledge U.S.-born Cuban-Americans have less of an emotional tie to Cuba and will put more of a priority on issues, such as the economy, health care and the war in Iraq. Kerry could win some support from them.

There's another group of voters, those who arrived in the early 1980s and during the 1995 rafter crisis, who could lean toward Kerry. Most of those people came to the United States for economical reasons rather than politics, and won't likely favor the new restrictions on travel and remittances.

"A lot of those voters could be in play for Democrats," said George Gonzalez, a political science professor at the University of Miami.

Republicans reject Democrats' argument that tightening restrictions were a political ploy. They point to the crackdown on businesses illegally selling Cuba travel packages and improved transmission signals for Radio and TV Marti as proof that Bush has kept Cuban-American issues in mind throughout his presidency.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a veteran Republican congresswoman and a Cuban-American, said the tightening of the embargo "re-energizes" Bush's voting base, crediting the president for helping resist attempts in Congress to ease the embargo.

"He didn't do it for voting purposes - he did it on principal," Ros-Lehtinen said.

Gonzalez said maintaining their 70 to 80-percent stranglehold on the Cuban vote is critical for the GOP in a state that went Bush's way by 537 votes after the 2000 recount.

"If Kerry takes 10 percent of the Cuban-American vote in the state away from Bush, Bush could lose the state," Gonzalez said.

There are other factors that could come into play.

Jeb Bush's Mexican-born wife, Columba, is a source of pride for many of Florida's Hispanics. Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese. Mel Martinez could attract Hispanics toward President Bush.

"There are a lot of people inspired by his life experience that hopefully will be drawn to the polls," Jeb Bush said of Martinez. "When they do, they hopefully will vote for a presidential candidate - the current occupant of the White House who has a set of shared beliefs."

Democrats want to make sure Hispanic votes count, so on a recent weekday, a half-dozen Spanish-speaking volunteers were deployed to a heavily Hispanic neighborhood in Orlando. The volunteers, including Sandra Cervantes and Cesar Leyva, went door-to-door offering absentee ballot applications to the registered Democrats and passing out "Kerry" bumper stickers and buttons.

They first knocked at the home of retiree Gloria Burgos.

"Can we count on your vote?" said Cervantes, a 24, spunky college student who took the semester off to work on the campaign. Burgos assured her "yes" but said she would prefer to vote in person.

"Then we'll see you at the polls!" Cervantes said.

Seven Million Latino Voters -- And Counting


October 24, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved.

On Nov. 2, all of the platitudes about Latinos must cede to the truth. ''Largest minority group in the nation.'' ''Fastest-growing minority group.'' ``Nearly 40 million people, according to U.S. Census estimates.''

But on Election Day, what matters is seven million -- the number of Latinos expected to vote. This is not to say that others are unimportant in other ways. But the reality is that on Election Day, those who are able and willing to vote take precedence.

Numbers alone have never meant political power, and gaining true political leverage is a slow process. So, a little sense prior to the election, please.

Political scholars are already bracing for the inevitable. Some commentator will likely say or write that the 2004 election was supposed to be the one where the power of the Latino electorate roared. But the nation will have to wait a little longer, according to Larry González, Washington office director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

''It gets over-stated, the impact, right now,'' he said.

Here is how González logically explains the issue. Dub it the González thirds theory.

Begin with 40 million people. OK, but one third of the 40 million is under the age of 18. They will hopefully be a political force later, but not yet. Another third of the population is either illegally in the country or legally but not a U.S. citizen. Recall, only those with U.S. citizenship have the right to vote.

You get the idea. The 40 million dwindles quickly when sliced by reality.

Eventually, what are left are 8.9 million Latinos who are registered to vote. Of that number, González believes that 6.9 million will cast votes. Let's say seven million.

On a national level, unless it is shown that the Latino vote alone turned an important swing state, the seven million votes are important but get diluted among the rest of the voting public. In some states, the Latino vote may very well hold such sway. Consider the number of Latinos who will be voting in New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado. But a lot of groups will also be vying for the credit in those states.

For this election, the Latino vote will be most forceful at the local, municipal level. Post Nov. 2, look for the number of nationally elected and appointed Latino officials -- 6,000 now -- to grow. A little more time must pass before their impact will build into strong national patterns, predicted Adam J. Segal, director of John Hopkins University's Hispanic Voter Project.

Consider this fact: About one million more Latino voters are expected to cast ballots in this presidential election compared to the 2000 election. There is no reason to believe that this rate of growth will subside.

So by 2008, or even the midterm 2005 elections -- look out. Recall the younger-than-18 one third who cannot vote yet. By 2008, many of them will come of age.

Another group on the political threshold: permanent legal residents who are eligible, but have not taken the next step, to become U.S. citizens. These people are believed to number about six million; 4.3 million of them are Latinos. By 2005, this eligible but not-quite-there group is expected to number eight million, with six million of them Latinos. If this group can be mobilized, their numbers may push the current seven million voters beyond a critical tipping point in electorate power.

''We are taking baby steps, but it is happening,'' González said.

Mary Sánchez is a columnist for The Kansas City Star.

Changes Help Spanish-Speaking Voters

By Tania deLuzuriaga | Sentinel Staff Writer

October 23, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved.

Spanish speakers in Orange and Osceola counties should have an easier time voting Nov. 2 than four years ago. But Hispanics in other Florida counties still may have trouble understanding ballots or finding poll workers to assist them.

Under the federal Voting Rights Act, a county must provide Spanish-language ballots and voting materials once census data indicate that more than 5 percent of registered voters speak Spanish as their primary language.

Only eight counties in Florida are required to make provisions for Spanish-speakers. Osceola, where Hispanics constitute more than 29 percent of registered voters, and Orange, with 15 percent, are the only ones in Central Florida.

Elsewhere, accommodations will vary.

"I have a lot of concerns," said James Auffant, an Orlando lawyer who filed complaints that accused elections supervisors in Orange and Osceola of violating the Voting Rights Act after the 2000 presidential election.

This year he has put together a team of lawyers to handle voter complaints. Meanwhile, a Miami group is campaigning to make sure Hispanic voters know their rights and know whom to call if there's a problem.

During the 2000 election, Armando Ramirez drove 12 Hispanics to the polls in Osceola. In one instance, poll workers didn't want to let Ramirez help a Hispanic woman vote, he said.

"It made me wonder how many times this happened," said Ramirez, who subsequently complained to the Justice Department and ran unsuccessfully for supervisor of elections last summer. "This is how you disenfranchise people."

Orange and Osceola avoided a lawsuit by the U.S. Justice Department after the 2000 vote by agreeing to provide more Spanish-speaking poll workers and Spanish-language voting materials.

"They said we had enough poll workers, but they weren't targeted to the proper precincts," Orange Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles said.

This election, 348 Spanish speakers will work the polls in 212 of Orange County's 253 precincts, while in Osceola, almost a third of the county's 655 poll workers speak Spanish.

Orange has offered ballots in Spanish since 1982, but this will be the first year that Spanish speakers in Osceola will be able to vote in their native language.

"The Justice Department was very complimentary that we have made great strides," Osceola Supervisor of Elections Donna Bryant said.

Despite the changes, not everyone is convinced all problems are solved.

Volunteers for the Miami-based Mi Familia Vota are distributing a voter bill of rights and have a set up a toll-free number that allows voters to contact an attorney instantly if they feel they've been unfairly denied the right to vote.

The group is working in 10 Florida counties with high Hispanic populations, including Osceola, Orange, Seminole and Polk.

"The whole idea is that no one should leave the polls without voting," said Jorge Mursuli, national president of Mi Familia Vota -- Spanish for "My family votes."

By law, however, accommodations for Spanish speakers are only required in Orange, Osceola, Broward, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. Counties with smaller numbers of Hispanics may or may not make provisions.

"We don't do bilingual ballots," said Emogene Stegall, the supervisor of elections in Lake County, where 3.4 percent of registered voters are Hispanic. "But we do tell them that they can take someone in [to the voting booth] with them to help."

The county has "three or four" Spanish-speaking poll workers, Stegall said.

In Volusia, however, Supervisor Deanie Lowe provides Spanish translations of ballot questions and makes sure to have a few Spanish-speaking poll workers at precincts that are in areas with a high Hispanic population.

About 3.8 percent of voters there speak Spanish as their primary language.

"There's always people in the county that don't like spending tax money on bilingual ballots if it's not required," Lowe said. "But this has worked really well for us."

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