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Getting out the Latino vote



A shared database of names and phone numbers, two staffers, computers and a quiet room in which to work: On the overcast morning of Election Day, this is what the voter turnout operation looks like at El Pueblo's Raleigh offices.

The day's task is relatively simple, says Executive Director Angeline Echeverria. On this morning, they have to contact 148 voters—a fraction of the 619 total new voters registered by the group this election season—who as of 9:30 a.m. had not cast a ballot.

In the office down the hall, Miguel Figueras, the group's smiling, goateed youth program coordinator, chats in Spanish with a voice on the other end of the phone. The call ends abruptly.

Contradictory to information from El Pueblo's voter-tracking software, this voter tells Figueras that he has already been to the polls. In a bit of cross-talk with another phone-banker, Figueras jokes that even these new voters may be suffering from election fatigue. "I think they were just tired of getting bothered," he says.

In North Carolina, the Latino voting bloc, in its sheer numbers, could sway the election. In the four years since President Barack Obama was elected, the number of registered Latino voters in the state has nearly doubled: from 68,053 self-identified Latinos in the 2008 presidential election to 112,918 in 2012, according to state Board of Elections figures.

That difference is far greater than Obama's margin of victory in 2008, when he carried the state by roughly 14,000 votes. This year, both he and Mitt Romney have tried to woo local Latino voters, but asked for details, neither the Obama nor Romney campaigns were willing to share specifics of their outreach to Hispanic communities.

Some local political observers have predicted that as many as 75,000—73 percent—of registered Latino voters could vote in 2012. Sixty percent cast ballots in 2008, according to a 2012 study by Democracy North Carolina.

"In as evenly divided a state as North Carolina, every vote counts," says Jonathan Kappler, research director for the North Carolina Free Enterprise Foundation. But while it's possible that the state's Latino voters could significantly affect the outcome of the election, Kappler says it remains unlikely. "The Latino population is growing population in North Carolina," he says. "But it's not as significant as it is in other states."

What it is, instead, is young. The average age of Spanish-speakers in North Carolina is 24, says Democracy NC Nonprofit Outreach Coordinator Isela Gutierrez-Gunter, who co-authored the group's study of the state's Latino voting population. The study says that 215,000 voting-age Latinos live in the state, but not all are motivated to be politically engaged. "It's one of the truisms that with youth comes lack of party affiliation, which can reduce turnout," Gutierrez-Gunter says. Others may be prevented from voting because they have jobs that don't allow them to take the time off or, she says, "simple disenchantment with the choice of candidates."

Case in point: Jose Rico. One of the founding members of the North Carolina DREAM Team, Rico says that the group has declined to make an endorsement in this election. Nor is the group actively engaged in getting people to the polls, he says. Why? The group is disappointed with Obama.

"He promised major reforms and did not deliver," says Rico. The group did endorse Obama in 2008. But despite his enactment by executive order of the DREAM Act, Rico says that too many other expected immigration reforms were never realized during Obama's first term. As such, he says, "It's kind of hard for us to go out and tell people to get out and vote."

Still, various groups are targeting voting-age Latinos, urging them to get involved in the political process. That includes the Latin American Coalition and El Pueblo, whose organizers spent the weeks and months preceding the election registering teenage voters. North Carolina law allows 16- and 17-year-olds to register, automatically making them eligible to vote when they turn 18.

"We're telling them that even though they aren't old enough to vote, that there are issues that they need to be paying attention to," says Echeverria. "Because one day, demographically and otherwise, they will be the face of this state."

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