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Latino Groups Target Voters Ahead of Midterms

Image: U.S. Citizens Head To The Polls To Vote In Presidential Election

Lines of voters wait to cast their ballots as polls open on November 6, 2012 in St. Petersburg, Florida. Ahead of the 2014 midterms, Latino voter groups are mobilizing to encourage more voter participation in November's elections. Edward Linsmier / Getty Images

For Lizette Escobedo, getting voters to turn out for midterm elections is always a challenge. But she said motivating Latino voters for the 2014 midterm elections may be especially difficult amid growing discontent over the lack of movement on immigration reform. Escobedo is the National Director of Development and Communications for Mi Familia Vota, an organization working to increase civic participation among Hispanics.

Immigration reform is still a big priority for many Latinos, she explained. “If the community doesn’t turn out to vote for leaders that will make those decisions, there is a lot to lose,” Escobedo said.

Despite the stalled legislation, voting rights groups are beginning their push to ramp up interest and participation before the 2014 midterms. Groups like Mi Familia Vota and Voto Latino have recently launched voter registration campaigns designed to re-energize the Latino electorate.

Groups like Mi Familia Vota and Voto Latino have recently launched voter registration campaigns designed to re-energize the Latino electorate.

Generating voter enthusiasm among some in the community will not be an easy task. For many Hispanic voters, explained Rodolfo Espino, a political scientist at Arizona State University, “things haven’t changed from Reagan to Bush to Clinton to Obama. Everyone talks about catering to Hispanic voters but at the end of the day immigration reform hasn’t changed,” he said.

The 2014 midterms calls to mind those in 2010, said Espino. At the time, Hispanic participation was dampened and many were disheartened by Arizona’s SB 1070 legislation. The law required police to determine the immigration status of a person if there was “reasonable suspicion” of illegal immigration, and many saw it as anti-Hispanic.

“It’s going to have a negative impact for sure, similar to what we saw in 2010,” Espino said. “Latinos were not only aware of it in Arizona, that legislation had spillover effects across the country.”

Participation among Hispanics was up over the past few midterm elections, according to Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project, but participation rates still lagged behind other groups. In 2010, 31.2 percent of eligible Hispanic voters said they voted, compared to nearly half of white eligible voters (48.6 percent) and 44 percent of eligible black voters.

Voto Latino launched the Trend Ur Voice campaign, which they hope will be the largest ever online voter registration campaign. Just this past weekend the nonpartisan group kicked off its Power Summit with dozens gathering in New York City for workshops and panels meant to generate interest among Latino Millennials and get them involved.

From left to right, Voto Latino's Wilmer Valderrama, Maria Teresa Kumar, Rosario Dawson and Frank D. Sanchez, Vice Chancellor at the City University of New York, at the Voto Latino 2014 Power Summit. Voto Latino

Voto Latino President and CEO Maria Teresa Kumar said that while some Hispanics have “absolutely” become disillusioned, her group thinks it is more important than ever to rise to the occasion and turn out to vote come midterms.

“The only reason the Senate passed legislation last year is because we turned out for three years straight. If we stop turning out, nothing is going to happen and families will continue to be torn apart,” said Kumar.

Earlier this year, Mi Familia Vota partnered with the National Council of La Raza and began their “Mobilize to Vote 2014” campaign. Escobedo said one strategy to boost enthusiasm is to emphasize the stakes of staying away from the ballot box and turning any discontent into motivation.

“The Latino vote has been increasing every midterm election. We’re hopeful that the community has a heightened sense of what their Congressmembers do. For example, if immigration reform hasn’t moved, it may be because your Congressman or woman didn’t help move a vote on it,” said Escobedo.

The group will also highlight to voters the importance of state and local races in November's elections.

“The Latino vote has been increasing every midterm election. We’re hopeful the community has a heightened sense of what their Congressmembers do. For example, if immigration reform hasn’t moved, it may be because your Congressman or woman didn’t help move a vote on it," said an organizer.

“We’re looking very closely at what the municipal issues are on the state level,” Escobedo explained. “Now that Hispanic voters have seen some of the crazy bills and proposals that go through their governors’ desks, they are seeing what decisions state governments make that impact their daily life,” she added.

While groups are seeking to capitalize on the frustrations many might be feeling in the Hispanic community, they are not forgetting the importance of the youth vote.

In 2010, about a third of Latino eligible voters were under the ages of 18 to 29. At the same time, this age group had some of the lowest voter participation rates. Just 17.6 percent of young eligible Latinos headed to the polls in 2010.

“There has to be a greater level of urgency. Every month, 50,000 Latinos turn eighteen years old,”said actor Wilmer Valderrama, who co-chairs the Voto Latino Artist Coalition and is part of a push to engage young Hispanic voters.

“When you start adding the numbers you can see the evolution of the voting powerhouse in the community. We need to understand that our vote is truly influential," said Valderrama. He and others hope this will translate to increased participation in November.