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Hispanic Link News Service
Latinos Registered to Vote, Ready to Make A Difference
by ANTONIO GILB
October 22, 2000
With voter registration deadlines in the 50 states wrapped up this month, Latino efforts are now geared to bringing the community to the polls. Between 7.5 million and 8 million Latinos are registered for Nov. 7, Antonio González, president of the William C. Velásquez Institute, estimates. He anticipates a 75 percent Latino turnout. The institute is a nonprofit research and policy group based in Los Angeles and San Antonio.
That would increase from 6.8 million those who were registered to vote in the presidential election of 1996, when there were 18.4 million Latinos of voting age. Turnout of registered voters that year was 75 percent. Latinos could play a decisive role in determining who will take political power, from the White House on down.
Nationally, Latinos favor Vice President Al Gore over Texas Gov. George W. Bush by better than 2-to-1 -- 59 percent to 28 percent -- according to the latest Hispanictrends.com poll.
The 2000 presidential election is expected to be the closest since 1960, when John Kennedy edged Richard Nixon. Latinos may make a difference even in toss-up states, where their numbers are comparatively small, because victories may hinge on a few percentage points.
Illinois, a battleground state, has 22 electoral votes; 25.6 percent of its 597,000 Latinos were registered in the 1996 election; Florida, with 25 electoral votes, reported 36.7 percent of its 1.8 million Latino population registered that year.
According to a Velásquez Institute poll, Gore leads among Illinois Hispanics, 59 percent to 19 percent. In November 1999, Bush led 38 percent to 35 percent.
The Chicago-based U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute has focused on registering Latinos throughout several Midwestern states. Its president, Juan Andrade, says between 2.5 million and 3 million Latinos live in the Midwest.
``There's no doubt in my mind, especially in these battleground states, any significant voting bloc can shift the election one way or the other,'' he notes. ``We've had statewide elections in Illinois where the difference was 5,000 votes.''
Battleground states of Pennsylvania and Michigan have growing Latino voting-age populations. In 1996, they stood at 171,000 and 165,000, respectively. Just over half of the Latinos living in each of these states are registered.
In New York, voting-age Latinos number 1.8 million, with 37.8 percent of them registered. They may be the difference whether Hillary Clinton becomes New York's junior senator, says the institute's González. ``They're enough to make a difference in a close race,'' Andrade says.
Along with hundreds of local and regional efforts, the national Southwest Voter Registration Education Project's ``Latino Vote 2000'' will now concentrate on getting Latinos to the polls on Nov. 7. They will use voter guides, mailings, telephone reminders and public service announcements.
While SVREP is nonpartisan, Melissa Romero, its communications director, points out that other Latino groups will be participating in hundreds of partisan get-out-the-vote campaigns.
An analysis completed this summer by the California-based Tomás Rivera Policy Institute on 1996 Latino voter mobilization efforts highlighted the effectiveness of personal contact, but found that because it is time-consuming and costly, only about one in five Latinos was reached by organizations in California and Florida. In Texas, the figure was one in four.
Polls indicate that of the three states with the largest Latino populations, Gore holds a sizable lead in California and New York, while Bush does so in Texas. Therefore, the presidential campaigns are concentrating a large proportion of their resources on Midwestern and other toss-up states with smaller Latino populations.
``In those battleground states, you have Latinos where you didn't have them even five years ago,'' says SVREP community relations director Angela Acosta. ``Because this race is so close, candidates cannot take the Latino vote for granted.''
For organizers such as Napoleon Pisano, the end of the registration project this month meant that he and about 25 to 30 other volunteers in Mesa, Ariz., no longer had to brave the 100-degree desert heat to register voters. They walked door to door in predominantly Latino neighborhoods, signing up voters outside stores and churches, and at outdoor festivals.
``It's been a time-consuming effort,'' says Pisano, the project coordinator of the East Valley SVREP. Latinos constitute 711,000 of Arizona's population, but only 32.4 percent of voting-age Latinos were registered in the last presidential election, according to the U.S. Census. Of those registered, 71 percent voted.
Increasing the number of Latino voters will give them a stronger voice, he says. ``Political parties have to notice that Latinos care. To say `We have to include them' only makes sense.''
David Aldape, chairman of the SVREP steering committee in San Francisco, recalls a representative from the Gore camp telling him that the campaign is targeting the undecided voters in toss-up states.
``We're tired of being taken for granted,'' he responded. ``Sooner or later, people are going to get rubbed the wrong way -- what they're doing, it's a gamble.''
(Antonio Gilb, a senior journalism student at the University of Texas-Austin, is completing a reporting internship in Washington, D.C.)