Getting out the Latino vote – America’s future at stake

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With a record high number of eligible voters, Hispanics have the unprecedented potential to impact what many consider the most important elections in recent history, if they show up.

Regrettably, the Latino voter turnout rate continues to lag behind their white and African-American peers. In a political landscape with increasingly divided views on how to solve economic, immigration, healthcare, and employment issues, one thing is certain; Latinos must better embrace their civic responsibility to vote or others will decide the outcome.

{mosads}Although the number eligible to vote has hit a record high, Latinos remain underrepresented on registered voter rolls. Data from the Pew Research Center shows that the number of eligible Latino voters is at a record 27.3 million. This means that one in nine potential voters is Latino. This is a 40 percent increase since the 2008 elections. 

As the largest minority in the U.S., Latinos must figure out how to harness their unparalleled potential voter numbers, particularly among millennial voters, to realize their political power. Millennials represent the fastest-growing portion of the Latino electorate and have officially surpassed baby boomers as America’s largest living generation. Latino millennials, aged 18 to 35 years old, account for nearly half (44%) of the Latino electorate. However, it is crucial that Latino millennials break the cycle of historically voting at lower rates than other ethnic groups. In the last presidential election, only 38 percent of Latino millennials turned up at the polls – a steep contrast to 55 percent of their black young counterparts and 48 percent of the white voter turnout in the same age group. 

Advocacy groups, state officials, and political campaigns can all help drive Latino voters to the polls. According to the Center for American Progress, a staggering 41 percent of the 23.3 million Latinos eligible to vote in the 2012 elections did not register. California has the nation’s largest Latino population, with about 14.4 million Hispanics, including an estimated 6.6 million eligible to vote but not registered. This is a major problem for which there are solutions.

Last year, Governor Jerry Brown signed into legislation a new “motor voter” law championed by Secretary of State Alex Padilla that grants every eligible voter who obtains a California drivers license automatic registration to vote, unless they opt out. Oregon also passed a similar law, creating an opportunity for its 400,000 eligible but unregistered citizens to be automatically registered at the motor vehicle offices – creating the opportunity to cut the state’s unregistered population in half. Additionally, lawmakers in 18 other states and the District of Columbia have proposed similar legislation.

Aside from the factors that have historically contributed to the low Latino voter turnout rate, the high partisan political climate seems to be having an impact on the number of naturalized—or soon to become citizens – who are showing up at the polls during this election cycle. The rise of anti-immigrant rhetoric from Republican candidates is driving Hispanic-American enfranchisement. Recent reports and news articles also suggest that Donald Trump’s disparaging comments about Mexican immigrants and plans to deport 11 million undocumented residents is driving a spike in the registration rates of new Latino voters who seem more determined to vote to stop a presidential candidate who supports views contrary to their own.

Although Latinos tend to be more closely aligned with the Democratic Party platform on immigration and healthcare reform, they must mount a robust 2016 campaign to secure the Latino vote and increase turnout rates to benefit their local and state candidates.

Candidates also need to engage with potential Latino voters on a wider array of issues that matter most to them. According to the 2014 National Survey of Latinos, 54 percent of registered Hispanic voters said the economy and job creation were viewed as more important issues than immigration and healthcare — especially after Republicans had considerable gains among Latino voters in gubernatorial and midterm elections.

More needs to be done collectively as a community to develop comprehensive solutions to improve Latino voter turnout significantly. The Latino vote has potential, of historic magnitude, to affect the outcome of who leads the United States as President for the next four years, the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives and more.

A higher priority has to be given by all to register eligible Latinos and convince them to turnout on Election Day by developing new more effective mobilization strategies, securing more resources and engaging millennials, who now are a crucial part of America’s social fabric.

Mickey Ibarra is president of the Ibarra Strategy Group, a government relations and public affairs firm in Washington, D.C. and Chairman of the Latino Leaders Network. He formerly served as Assistant to the President and Director of Intergovernmental Affairs at the White House for President Clinton. 

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