News Column

Voting Power

Nov. 15, 2011

Richard Larsen, Deputy Managing Editor

You can try running from it, but you can't hide from the 2012 presidential election season. It has been upon us since early in the year. In fact, the first GOP presidential debate was held May 5 in Greenville, S.C. There have been eight more since then and, so far, another 14 are scheduled through March 19.

Much ado has been made about these debates and the seemingly never-ending effort to see who is ahead, who has faltered and who is just plain out of the running. Yet, for as much coverage as has been devoted to these wannabe GOP presidential candidates, a far more important undercurrent of the 2012 elections exists—the role the Hispanic voter will play.

The numbers speak for themselves. The census of 2010 confirmed that Hispanics, at 16.3 percent of the population, are now the largest minority group in the nation. They number 50.4 million, a 43 percent increase from the census count of 10 years earlier. How does that translate into voting power?

In June, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials' (NALEO) Educational Fund, projected that at least 12.2 million Hispanic voters will cast ballots in November 2012. In October, Antonio Gonzalez, president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP), forecasted that Hispanic voter registration will reach 14 million by November 2012 and that more than 11 million Hispanic voters will cast ballots, 1.5 million more than in the 2008 presidential election.

In March, Matt Barreto, associate professor of political science at the University of Washington and co-founder of Latino Decisions, posted an assessment of how much influence Hispanics might wield in 2012.

"By the 2012 election, Latinos will account for over 10 percent of the citizen adult population -- potential voters -- in 11 states," Mr. Barreto wrote. "In another 13 states, Latinos account for 5-10 percent of the citizen adult population. All told, that's 24 states where Latinos have the capacity to influence electoral outcomes."

Mr. Gonzalez, in an e-mail interview, wrote: "Latinos will be important presidentially in swing states where we have a critical mass and the elections are close, namely Florida, New Mexico, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Nevada." Those five states represent a total of 69 electoral votes, 25.5 percent of the electoral votes a presidential candidate needs to win election.

Mr. Gonzalez also wrote that there are swing states where there is not a critical mass of Hispanic voters. Yet, they could have a major impact in an extremely close race. Those states are North Carolina, Virginia, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Iowa, which have a combined 69 electoral votes. Thus, Hispanics could have an impact in states that wield more than half the electoral votes a presidential candidate needs.

While attention focuses heavily on the presidential contest every four years, it is in the elections for the House and Senate where Hispanic empowerment might be more important. Both SVREP's Mr. Gonzalez and Arturo Vargas, executive director of NALEO, believe there is a good chance that two more Hispanics will be elected to the U.S. Senate, one from Texas and one from New Mexico.

"There are two exciting candidates running for the U.S. Senate," Mr. Vargas wrote in an e-mail, "including State Auditor Hector Balderas in New Mexico and the former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, retired Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez in Texas."

If so, they would join current Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

In the congressional elections, the decennial redistricting process comes into play in 2012. It will be the first election in the newly created and newly redrawn congressional districts. Both Mr. Gonzalez and Mr. Vargas predict as many as 10 new Hispanic representatives could be seated in the 113th Congress in January 2013.

"California has completed its redistricting process and if the congressional lines are upheld," Mr. Vargas wrote, "it is likely two to three more Latinos will win congressional seats." He said it was likely one would be in the San Diego area, another in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles and perhaps a third in California's Central Valley. Mr. Vargas also said it was likely a Hispanic could win a congressional seat in Las Vegas and in central Florida.

Mr. Gonzalez also predicted two to three new Hispanic representatives in California and one each in Florida, New Mexico, Arizona, Illinois and Nevada.

The one area that Mr. Gonzalez and Mr. Vargas do not readily agree on is Texas. Mr. Gonzalez believes there will be two to three Hispanic representatives elected there, but Mr. Vargas was a bit more hesitant.

"The unknown question is Texas," Mr. Vargas wrote in his e-mail, "which received four new congressional seats because of its 4.3 million population increase, 65 percent of which was Latino. However, the Legislature failed to draw additional Latino majority districts and the maps approved by the Texas Legislature are now in the courts."

With 12 months to go before Election Day, much attention will be focused on the Republicans who want to be the challenger against President Obama. But for Hispanics, a more important focus is shaping up.

Yes, it appears Hispanics might play a key role in the election of the president, but on a broader scale, Hispanics are poised to have greater representation in both houses of Congress.

If Mr. Gonzalez's and Mr. Vargas' forecasting hold true, Hispanic numbers in Congress could leap from the current 26 representatives and two senators to 36 representatives and four senators. While that would be good progress for Hispanics, it would put Hispanic representation in both houses of Congress at 7.4 percent, still woefully short of the 16.3 percent of the nation's population Hispanics represent.

Source: (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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