Registration push has helped increase rolls by 40% since ’08, By Daniel González
Latino groups say they have registered tens of thousands of new Hispanic voters in Arizona leading up to the Nov. 6 general election.
They also say the controversy over the wrong election date printed in Spanish on some Maricopa County election handouts may help boost voter turnout.
Over the past six months, a coalition of 10 Latino groups has been going from door to door, registering new voters and encouraging voters who are already registered to sign up for early mail-in ballots. The groups also have been encouraging voters who have received early ballots to mail them in and even offering to deliver them to county election officials on their behalf.
The voter-registration drives are part of a concerted effort by advocacy groups to increase the number of Latino voters in Arizona to counter what they consider anti-Latino policies such as Arizona’s immigration law, Senate Bill 1070, and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s immigration-enforcement sweeps.
The voter-registration efforts intensified over the past two weeks after it was revealed that the county printed the wrong election date on some election materials in Spanish, including bookmarks distributed at voter-outreach events and election reminders distributed with voter-ID cards.
The Spanish version of the materials gave Nov. 8 as the election date instead of the correct date, Nov. 6.
The errors sparked an outcry from Latino voting groups concerned that the wrong election dates printed in Spanish could prevent some Latinos from voting, undermining some of their efforts to boost Latino turnout at the polls.
The drive to increase Latino voter participation is not overtly aimed at benefiting a particular political party, but in general, Latinos tend to vote for Democrats. Several of the groups organizing the voter-registration drives are aligned with labor unions.
Many Latino advocates now say the attention the controversy has received could end up boosting turnout by adding to perceptions by many Latinos that they are under attack, either through immigration-enforcement laws such as SB 1070 or efforts to prevent them from voting.
“That’s definitely helped,” said Randy Parraz, who heads Citizens for a Better Arizona. “People are more inclined to vote now.”
The group is part of the coalition that has been trying to increase Latino-voter turnout. The group is also behind a campaign called Adios Arpaio that is trying to oust Arpaio from office in the Nov. 6 election over his immigration-enforcement policies.
Petra Falcon, who heads the group Promise Arizona, agreed that the controversy surrounding the misprinted election materials could galvanize more Latinos to vote.
“When SB 1070 hit, we saw a lot of energy. Now, with this error, you are seeing the energy going up again,” she said.
Maricopa County election officials say the errors were honest mistakes, not part of any deliberate attempt to suppress Latino voting. To clear up any confusion, the county is spending $30,000 to run ads in Spanish-language newspapers and on Spanish-language radio and television.
The ads will be running through Monday, said Yvonne Reed, a spokeswoman for the county Elections Department.
“We really have done everything we could” to rectify the mistake, Reed said. “It was an error.”
Latinos are the fastest-growing ethnic group in Arizona, and they could make up 50 percent of the state’s population by the middle of this century, according to a recent study by Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy.
But while Latinos currently make up 30 percent of the state’s population, they constitute a much smaller share of the electorate. In the 2008 general election, Latinos made up 11.6 percent of all voters, according to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, an advocacy group.
The Morrison Institute report said there are several reasons the proportion of Latino voters lags behind their share of the population. Latinos make up about 25 percent of the state’s voter-age population, and about one-third of adult Latinos in Arizona are not citizens and therefore not eligible to vote, the report said.
The Latino population is also younger than that of non-Hispanic Whites, and younger voters in general tend to vote less often than older voters, the report said.
Also, a higher proportion of Latinos live in poverty, and lower-income people tend to vote less often then higher-income people, the report said.
Despite those and other obstacles, NALEO projects that 359,000 Latinos will vote in Arizona on Tuesday. That would be a 23 percent increase from the 291,000 Latinos who voted in the 2008 general election.
Arturo Vargas, executive director of NALEO, said the organization is projecting a large increase in the number of Latino voters for several reasons.
The number of Latinos eligible to vote in Arizona is increasing rapidly, primarily because of the number of Latinos turning 18.
“That population is actually growing faster than the population that votes in every election,” Vargas said.
Based on an analysis of voter rolls, there are 576,000 Latinos registered to vote in Arizona this year, up 40 percent from 410,000 Latino registered voters in 2008, according to NALEO.
Immigration-enforcement laws such as SB 1070, which are often perceived as anti-Latino, also have served to motivate Latino voters similar to the way more Latinos were spurred to register and vote in California in the wake of Proposition 187, Vargas said.
Prop. 187, passed in 1994 with the backing of then-California Gov. Pete Wilson, barred illegal immigrants from access to public education and hospitals but was eventually struck down by the courts.
Vargas said there also has been “unprecedented” efforts by groups to increase the number of Latino voters in Arizona.
“We haven’t seen this kind of mobilization and investment of resources in other elections,” Vargas said. “This is really a historic moment for the Latino community in Arizona.”
Falcon, of Promise Arizona, said her group has registered more than 34,000 new Latino voters in the past six months.
Francisco Heredia, Arizona director of Mi Familia Vota, a national group, said his organization has registered 7,500 new Latino voters in Arizona and has signed up 20,000 Latino voters for the permanent early-voter list, ensuring they will receive a ballot in the mail for every election.
Registered voters who receive ballots in the mail are more likely to vote, he said.
The increase in Latino voters could benefit President Barack Obama and other Democratic candidates the most.
A June poll of 400 Latinos in Arizona conducted jointly by Latino Decisions, a polling group, and America’s Voice, an immigrant-advocacy organization, indicated that Latinos overwhelmingly favor Obama over Republican nominee Mitt Romney. According to the poll, 74 percent of Latinos said they were likely to vote for Obama, compared with 18 percent for Romney.
For months, members of Mi Familia Vota have been going from door to door in predominantly Latino neighborhoods in the Phoenix area, trying to increase the number of Latinos who vote.
One afternoon this week, Lucero Ruiz and Clarisa Udave, both 18, two canvassers from the group, visited a neighborhood in south Phoenix near 19th and Southern avenues.
They used an iPod loaded with names and addresses of voters who registered for early ballots in the mail as a guide for which doors to knock on.
Adrian Martinez, 24, a student at South Mountain Community College who answered the door at a house on Fremont Road, told the two canvassers he had received his ballot but had not yet filled it out.
The two women offered to deliver the ballot for him after he completed it, but Martinez said he felt more comfortable dropping the ballot off himself at a polling place on Election Day.
The two canvassers did not mention the error in the date printed in Spanish, but in an interview, Martinez said he had heard about it from his neighbor, an immigrant from Mexico who recently became a U.S. citizen.
Martinez said the neighbor asked him for help translating some of the election materials from the county that showed the wrong election date.
“He asked me, ‘Why is it like this?’ He thought maybe Spanish-speaking citizens vote on Nov. 8 and English-speaking citizens vote on Nov. 6. I told him, ‘Everyone votes on the 6th,’” Martinez said.
A few doors down, Rachel Chacon, 53, said she had a hard time believing the error was simply a mistake. She wondered whether county officials were deliberately trying to keep Latinos from voting by printing the wrong date in Spanish. “I don’t know how they are making a mistake on that kind of stuff,” she said.
Lucy Contreras, 64, said she heard about the error on the news but doesn’t think it was deliberate. “It was an honest mistake,” Contreras said.
Martinez said he believes the mistake may increase the number of Latinos who vote because it has angered a lot of Latino voters. “A child wants something the most when you try to take it from them,” Martinez said. “We are the children, and our vote, that is what they are trying to take from us.”