What’s Holding Back Hispanic Voters?
In blue: non-metro counties where the number of Hispanic residents more than doubled in the 1990s
Sen. John McCain's position on immigration — and his Arizona credentials — may win him Hispanic votes this fall. Sen. Barack Obama has received the endorsement of Bill Richardson, the only Hispanic governor in the US. The Clintons, both candidate Hillary and her husband, campaigned hard and won big among Latinos in the Texas primary. Seems everyone is polishing his or her "Si, se puede." And today, with more Hispanic Americans dispersed through small communities in the U.S., courting the Latino vote means going rural.
But while Hispanics are the fastest growing ethnic group in the U.S., they are less likely than non-Hispanic whites or blacks to vote. And research by the U.S. Census suggests that there are barriers — actual and/or perceived — to Hispanic voter registration.
The Washington (NC) Daily News describes Democracy North Carolina's effort to register Latino voters in rural eastern stretches of the state. This organization, and the state's Mexican Association, too, have been holding informal community forums to explain registration and voting procedures and to discuss civil rights. "We have been most successful through the churches,” Juvenicio Peralta of Democracy North Carolina told reporter Dan Parsons.
There are an estimated 2000 Hispanic residents in Beaufort County, NC, "but only 85 are registered to vote." In nearby Duplin and Greene counties, which have seen major increases in Latino residents, voters registration rates among Hispanics are likewise low.
“Duplin County has one of the largest Latino populations in the state with an immigration history that goes back to the mid-1970s,” Peralta said. “But, there are only 234 registered Latino voters there. There is a lot of work to be done.”
And not just in the Tar Heel State. The US Census' Current Population Survey examined voting patterns from the 2004 presidential election. Only 47% of voting age Hispanics cast votes. Even among those registered to vote, Hispanic voting rates were the lowest — 82%, as compared with Asians (85%), Blacks (87%), and non-Hispanic Whites (89%).
Lawrence Hamilton, studying rural voting in the 2004 election for the Carsey Institute, noted, "Hispanic populations had a less distinct impact on voting, probably reï¬‚ecting both more divergent voting, and a substantial fraction unable to vote if they are not citizens or registered voters."
Su Voto Es Su Voz/Your Vote Is Your Voice
Photo: Rich Whitehead
When the Current Population Survey polled people on their reasons for not registering, 6.6% of non-registered Hispanics said it was because they did not know how or where to register — a higher percentage than any other group. Among non-voters, 10.9% of Hispanics said they had not participated in the election due to "registration problems," again, the highest percentage of all groups of non-voters.
Peralta of Democracy North Carolina says rural voter registration efforts need to send Latino organizers into comfortable local meeting places and keep at it. For as much as its organizers stress civil rights and voting rights, there are strong, countervailing forces to discourage Hispanics' civic participation. Parsons writes that in Beaufort County, local commissioners have drafted an initiative "denying county-provided services to non-English speakers."
In South Carolina, Republicans in the statehouse are advocating a bill that would require anyone who registers to vote to show a passport, naturalization documents, or a birth certificate.