Group aims to register 1 million new Hispanic voters
Florida, four other states focus of drive
By William Gibson Washington Bureau Chief November 15, 2007 WASHINGTON – A nationwide movement to turn Hispanic immigrants into citizens and voters is focusing on Florida and four Southwestern states that may decide the 2008 presidential election.
Hispanics make up a large share of the electorate in Florida, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada, and each of these states could swing either way in the presidential race.
While New York and California are bound to cast their electoral votes for a Democrat and Texas almost certainly will vote Republican, Florida becomes the biggest swing state.
The four smaller Southwest states have emerged as a battleground, partly because of a surge of Hispanic voters. In a close election, they could make the difference.
New Mexico long has been a swing state. Colorado, Arizona and Nevada were Republican strongholds that have become competitive. As a result, some political analysts think Democrats should focus on the Southwest rather than try to cut into the Republican advantage in most of the South.
“Any combination of these states will be the key deciders of who wins the election in 2008,” predicted Arturo Vargas of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. “We are talking to the Latino community and saying, 'This is your time, your opportunity to make your voice heard.”
Vargas is part of a coalition of national and local organizations known as “Ya es Hora,” or “Now it's Time,” which has organized a voter-mobilization campaign. It's a nonpartisan campaign, though past patterns indicate that a surge of Hispanic voting would help elect Democrats.
The campaign set a goal of turning one million Hispanic immigrants into citizens, and Vargas said more than a million applications will be filed by the end of the year.
The next phase is voter registration, “Ve y Vota!” or “Go and Vote!”
The coalition has service centers in 13 states and 23 cities. Its hotline has received more than 40,000 phone calls. Its Web site has received 83,000 hits. The group has sponsored more than 200 workshops, where you can complete citizenship applications can be completed in one day. More information can be found at Veyvota.org.
Hispanic voters increased from 3.7 million in 1998 to 7.6 million in 2004, the coalition estimates. That's less than half of 16 million who were eligible.
“People want to participate. They are hungry to participate,” said Eliseo Medina, executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union, a member of the coalition. “Community organizations, unions, churches and Latino media are coming together to reach millions of potential voters.”
He and other observers say Hispanics consider a range of issues but that the debate over illegal immigration and some of the harsh rhetoric that flows from it is a major motivation to vote.
“People are saying it's become a matter of respect for our community,” Medina said. “Motivation is extremely high. They view this from the prism of an attack on the whole community.”