Growth in Latino population not fully reflected at voting booth
Democrats work to increase participation in a group that leans toward Obama
Matthew Staver For The New York Times
Linda Vargas works as a volunteer in Denver with Mi Familia Vota, which helps Latinos become citizens and register to vote.
By Adam Nagourney
DENVER — The nation’s rapidly growing Latino population is one of the most powerful forces working in President Obama’s favor in many of the states that will determine his contest with Mitt Romney. But Latinos are not registering or voting in numbers that fully reflect their potential strength, leaving Hispanic leaders frustrated and Democrats worried as they increase efforts to rally Latino support.
Interviews with Latino voters across the country suggested a range of reasons for what has become, over a decade, an entrenched pattern of nonparticipation, ranging from a distrust of government to a fear of what many see as an intimidating effort by law enforcement and political leaders to crack down on immigrants, legal or not.
Here in Denver, Ben Monterosso, the executive director of Mi Familia Vota, or My Family Votes, a national group that helps Latinos become citizens and register to vote, gathered organizers around a table in his office and recited census data demonstrating the lack of Latino participation.
“Our potential at the ballot box is not being maximized,” Mr. Monterosso told them.“The untapped potential is there.”
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More than 21 million Latinos will be eligible to vote this November, clustered in pockets from Colorado to Florida, as well as in less obvious states like Illinois, Iowa, North Carolina and Virginia. Yet just over 10 million of them are registered, and even fewer turn out to vote.
In the 2008 presidential election, when a record 10 million Latinos showed up at the polls nationwide, that amounted to just half of the eligible voters. By contrast, 66 percent of eligible whites and 65 percent of eligible blacks voted, according to a study by the Pew Hispanic Center.
That disparity is echoed in swing states across the country. In Nevada, 42 percent of eligible Hispanics are registered, while just 35 percent are registered in Virginia, according to Latino Decisions, which studies Latino voting trends.