Hispanics May Play Key Role At Polls

Hispanics may play key role at polls
National campaign is aimed at increasing number of voters in '08.

By Devona Walker
The Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), July 17, 2008

Hispanic advocates have turned their attention to registering voters in Oklahoma and across the nation, following unprecedented immigration enforcement measures.

New York-based Nuestra America began its national Hispanic voter registration drive July 4. The purpose is to shore up the Hispanic voting block and ensure Hispanic Americans have a seat at the political table next year.

The National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Religious Leaders, which sued Oklahoma last year over its immigration enforcement statute, also plans a statewide voter registration campaign.

Making a difference

In Oklahoma, efforts are under way to register and mobilize Hispanic voters.

'Up until now, Hispanics have not been taken seriously at all either at the national, state, county or local levels,' said the Rev. Victor Orta, a Hispanic activist in Tulsa.

'This is the year that we make a difference. We are going to intensify, and we're going to mobilize. You will see more Hispanics going to the polls than ever before in Oklahoma.'

Hispanics learned many painful lessons in Oklahoma last year, Orta said.

'(House Bill) 1804 taught us that Hispanics need to get their act together. We need to work together and think about the welfare of the people. We need to get organized. We need a strategy and we need to connect with our elected leaders,' Orta said.

'We need to know their voting record. We need to be more visible at the state Capitol. If we had done all this before, we would have been more prepared to fight 1804. And we would have been more knowledgeable about the consequences of 1804.'

A national effort

The importance of the Hispanic vote nationally has led both presidential hopefuls to spend the past few weeks trying to win that voting block. Adam Alonzo, the executive director of Nuestra America, which means Our America, said the importance of the Hispanic vote has intensified this election cycle.

'If you picture a nucleus breaking off, creating many different nuclei, that's the Latino population. We are no longer just concentrated in a few cities where we cannot make a huge impact. We are now in many cities. In some cases, the Latino population has increased by 200 percent,' Alonso said.

'We are playing a larger role in the national elections, but not just the national elections. We are going to be an important voting block in local elections too. We will make up about 10 percent of the electorate this year.'

A language barrier

Hispanics historically have had lower voter registration numbers than other minority groups. Some argue the reason behind that is the language barrier.

There is also a measurable chunk of the Hispanic elector which is not currently naturalized even though they are eligible to do so, Alonso said. Hispanics, like many other minority groups, have been marginalized, he said.

'It is going to take multiple election cycles to get to the point where the Latinos need to be politically, and getting there over the next several election cycles will be paramount,' Alonso said. 'The ultimate goal is to have an impact on policy. The more Latinos register to vote determine how good of a seat we get at the table.'