News Column

Hispanics Set Sights on Increasing Turnout on Election Day

November 5, 2012

Diane Smith

Fernando Florez and Ruben Jimenez Jr. are polar opposites when it comes to politics. Florez likes Democrats -- President Barack Obama and state Sen. Wendy Davis.

Jimenez favors Republicans -- Mitt Romney for president and Dr. Mark Shelton in the race against Davis.

Both are actively involved this election season, encouraging their neighbors to vote, giving pep talks and offering rides to the polls.

"[Voting] is one example of our level of commitment to being Americans," Florez said. "We need to get out and vote as a group."

As Election Day nears, the work being done by the two men illustrates the efforts that Hispanics are putting forth to position themselves as a major voting bloc in this year's election, whether in battleground states for the presidential race or in statewide and local campaigns.

Although the Latino turnout has lagged in previous years, more than 12.2 million Hispanics are expected to vote this year, according to projections from the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Education Fund. This week, one poll indicated that eight percent of these voters cast early ballots, said Arturo Vargas, executive director of NALEO.

"We are going to see a high turnout -- perhaps a record turn out among Latino voters in the United States," said Susan Gonzalez Baker, director of the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Texas has 1,987,000 projected Hispanic voters this election -- 17.1 percent more than in 2008, NALEO said. In Texas, 1 in 5 voters will be Hispanic, the group projects. And while Texas is expected to go heavy for Romney, the Hispanic voting bloc will play a major role in the presidential race in the key battleground states of Nevada, Colorado and Florida.

Community activists say they are working hard to ensure that Hispanics get to the polls.

"The registration is over so now the emphasis is to go to vote," said Luis Castillo of the Arlington LULAC.

Castillo will knock on doors and take people to the polls, he said. One-on-one face time is key to getting Hispanics to vote, campaigners say.

"For Hispanic voters -- more than any other voter -- the personal appeal is a sign of respect and dignity and empowerment," said Fort Worth City Councilman Sal Espino.

Switching sides?

Texas Hispanics are largely Mexican-American, and many have a working-class background, Baker said. Over the years, the economic assistance derived from government programs and an emphasis on education trended Hispanics toward voting Democrat, she said.

Many Hispanics who say they'll vote for Davis in the District 10 race point to her support of similar issues as reasons. She is especially strong on education, Hispanics say, and point to her support of immigration reform.

Davis has a bilingual phone bank and volunteers who canvass Hispanic neighborhoods.

Jimenez, however, said that Hispanics should be supporting candidates such as Shelton and Ted Cruz, who is running for U.S. senator against Democrat Paul Stadler.

He said too many Hispanics vote Democrat just because they've been told to.

"We need to be better informed," Jimenez said. "You can't get all the news from television stations. You have to attend meetings. Latinos need to remember what they came here for -- that was to look for jobs and a better life."

Jimenez walks his Fort Worth voting precinct, passing out information in support of Shelton. He's also walked parts of Arlington trying to remind voters that Republican candidates better understand family values, which Hispanics hold dear. For example, Shelton's anti-abortion stance is similar to that of many Hispanics, he said.

"This year I have had a few Democrats say: 'I'm going to vote for your side this time,'" Jimenez said.

Immigration is Key

Hispanic voters want to know they matter to the candidate -- whether he or she is Democrat, Republican or Independent, experts say.

That's why Vince Puente, an owner of Southwest Office Systems, is supporting Romney.

Puente said many Hispanic business owners like the idea of smaller government and reducing the national debt. Puente said he and like-minded business owners are looking for tax relief that will help generate new job growth.

"If you are in business you have been pretty beaten down over the last four yeas and not seen a light at the end of the tunnel," Puente said.

While the economy is a key issue for Hispanic voters, so is immigration reform, Baker said. For many, the phrase "comprehensive immigration reform," can seal a vote.

Those words have become "code for a path for legalization for unauthorized immigrants," Baker said.

Soraya Ronco, a 23-year-old senior at the University of North Texas, is voting for Obama. She said immigration reform is tied to the economy because it would allow her undocumented friends to come out of the shadows, work legally and pay taxes.

Source: (c) 2012 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Distributed by MCT Information Services

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