Actually, U.S. Latinos do vote en masse

A new look at electoral census data calls into question the theory that Latinos don’t go to the polls. The problem is that many don’t register to vote.
15 Ago 2016 – 6:24 PM EDT

In recent election cycles, on average 40% of eligible Latino voters didn't register in time within the legal limits in each state.

As a result, Latino voter turnout has become the biggest headaches for Democratic party activists seeking to maximise their potential in one of their strongest constituencies.

However, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics the participation of Latinos has increased in the last three presidential elections. In 2008, 9.7 million voted, 28% more than in the 2004 elections, influencing the outcome in four key states for President Barack Obama: Florida, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico.

In 2012 a record 11 million Latinos went to the polls, 15% more than in 2008. And it is estimated that in November there will be 13 million, 18% more than in 2012.

So where does the narrative of Latinos stay home come from?

"The problem with the reading of the figures is that we tend to count Latinos who show up to vote in relation to the entire Latino population eligible to vote, not those who are enrolled," says Andres Ramirez, a political analyst and president of the Ramirez Group, a Las Vegas public relations and advocacy firm working with the Hispanic community.

"The big gap is in the registry. It is true that many people do not register, but those who do, when they already have a valid document, [voting] table, date, they get involved, they talk to their families and go to the polls."

Ramirez also attributes lack of information and filing obstacles in some states to low registration, but he point to healthy turnout in recent elections for those who do get their names on the rolls.

When George W. Bush was elected president in 2000, of the more than 13 million Latinos eligible to vote, only 7.5 million registered. And yet on the election day, almost 6 million Hispanics exercised their right to vote: almost 79% of those registered.

During Bush's reelection in 2004, 16 million Hispanics were eligible to vote, but only slightly more than 9 million registered. About 7.5 million Latinos went to the polls, or 81.5% of those registered.

In 2008, when Obama was elected, nearly 20 million Hispanics were eligible to vote, but only about 12 million registered. That year, 9.7 million voted, or 84% of those registered.

This trend repeated in 2012: more than 23 million Hispanics were eligible to vote, but only close to 14 million registered. A total of 11 million Latinos turned out to vote that November, almost 82% of those registered.

Election countdown

Although it varies from state to state, Oct 24 is the last day to register voters in California where about 7 million Latinos are eligible. In the other states with large numbers of Hispanics, the race is even more hectic: Texas and Florida have only until Oct 11.

Those three states account for more than half of Hispanics living in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center. While the Democratic Party has a virtual lock on California’s 55 electoral votes, and Texas’ 34 electoral college votes have historically belonged to the Republic Party, voter registration activists believe there is still plenty of work to be done.

Especially in Florida where the latest voter registration numbers show a dramatic leap in Latinos.

Since the 2012 election, the number of Hispanic voters jumped by 242,000, accounting for 55% of the overall increase, according to the Florida Division of Elections. As of Aug 1, Florida’s voter rolls had grown by 436,500, but only 24 percent of that increase was from non-Hispanic white voters, according to Politico.

Non-Hispanic white voters still dominate, accounting for 65% of registered voters, however that is a 1.5% drop since 2012. Latinos are now 15.4 percent of the voter rolls, up from 13.9 percent overall in 2012.

President Barack Obama narrowly won Florida in 2012 thanks to strong support from blacks and Hispanics. The latest polls show Trump trailing Clinton in Florida by about 4%.

Campaigning to close the gap

While most groups working to mobilize the Latino vote are non-partisan (including Chispa, Mi Familia Vota, I America, Voto Latino and SIREN), the Democratic Party stands to benefit the most, according to polls which show Latino voters turned off by Trump's immigration views and denigration of Mexicans.

According to numbers from the Latino Community Foundation, each year 800,000 Latinos turn 18 and become eligible to vote. Strategies to attract them to the election include bringing information and registration forms to concerts, schools, college campuses, bus stops and, of course, to Latino neighborhoods.

To close the gap in Hispanic voter enrollment, several states are moving toward automatic voter registration to remove the burden on citizens. This is done at the DMV when citizens get or renew their driver's license, and they're automatically registered unless they opt out.

Oregon, California, Vermont, West Virginia and Connecticut have passed laws allowing for automatic enrollment, and a dozen states are considering similar legislation. But none of the proposed laws will go into effect before the November elections.

Technology has also spurred apps like Unidos, VoterPal and LatinosVote, which allow young people to vote and invite others to vote.

Latino groups in California are also aware how their efforts can impact other states. "Our telephone bank volunteers in California are instructed to make calls in Spanish directly to states like Nevada, Colorado and North Carolina," Julie Wong, one of the coordinators of volunteers in California, told Univision. "We're going to support those pendulum states where the Latino vote is even more crucial.”

"Although we are not a swing state, what we do can still influence the rest of the country," Jacqueline Martinez, CEO of Latino Community Foundation (LCF) told leaders mobilizing the Hispanic vote in California as part of their #MobilizeLatinoVote campaign. "Much is at stake in this election, so we cannot stand aside. This election ... goes beyond Clinton and Trump, it’s about our values and what our grandparents sacrificed to come here," she added.

"One of the issues we emphasize is that the next president will elect three judges to the Supreme Court that will make crucial decisions on education, the economy and immigration, which are of great interest to our community," LCF’s Martinez said.

Additional reporting by David Adams

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