Hispanic voters had record turnout in '04
This story was published Friday, May 27th, 2005
By Andrew Sirocchi, Herald staff writer
Hispanic voters turned out in record numbers in the November 2004 election, extending a trend that has seen them increase their influence in the last four presidential elections.
A U.S. Census Bureau report released Thursday found that 67 percent of Americans returned ballots for the November election, including more than 47 percent of registered Latino voters.
While the turnout percentage for Hispanics remained statistically similar to the past two presidential elections, a review of the report by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Education Fund concluded that a record 7.6 million Hispanics cast ballots in November.
Hispanic groups, which point out that the number of Latino voters grew by 79 percent from 1992 to 2004, say last year foreshadowed things to come.
"If you look at the growth of the community, there's practically been a doubling in size of this electorate," said Clarissa Martinez, a spokeswoman for the National Council of La Raza in Washington, D.C. "It's still far from reaching its potential."
The Census Bureau data did not break down voter turnout by ethnicity for individual states, but Hispanic leaders in the Tri-Cities said they believe efforts to increase Latino voter registration in the Mid-Columbia were highly successful.
"The Tri-Cities chapter (of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly) did tremendous work to get out the vote," said Fernando Avalos, RNHA sergeant at arms in the Tri-Cities. "We did voter registrations in churches and marketplaces. We cold-called Hispanic areas and we spoke in Spanish."
The result, Avalos believes, was a 44 percent Hispanic vote that went in favor of President George W. Bush. While other groups dispute that figure -- the National Council of La Raza said the president received 39 percent of the Latino vote -- no one disputes the GOP made inroads with Hispanics in 2004 and that their votes are in demand.
"Latinos are shaping our nation's democracy, and we continue to be a vital force in the American political arena," said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Education Fund in Los Angeles. "The dramatic growth of the Latino electorate reflects the political strides of a community that is eager to participate in the electoral process."
Despite their increasing numbers, Hispanic voters still hold few positions of political power. Even in heavily Hispanic areas such as Pasco, few hold public office.
"The city of Pasco is 63 percent Hispanic, and they don't have a single Hispanic on the city council," Avalos said. "They need to address that, and the residents of Pasco, they need to look at that and make sure they have a viable candidate to run for a certain position."
Saul Martinez, who was appointed to the Pasco School Board last year after losing a campaign for the job in 2003, said many Latinos still are struggling in their own social and financial lives. Martinez, who plans to run for a full term when his term expires this year, said he expects more Latinos to enter politics.
"In the next 10 years, we will definitely see a big rise in the Latino leaders in this community," he said. "It's just a matter of time."
Regardless of a candidate's ethnicity, Clarissa Martinez believes the increasing number of Hispanic voters will lead to more competition and force politicians to address Hispanic issues.
She said about 10 million immigrant Hispanics are eligible to become citizens, and political candidates who long have focused on the Latino voters in states with large Hispanic populations will need to reach out nationwide.
"I don't think the Latino community is interested in hearing a message spoken only when a politician is visiting the community," Martinez said. "For the Democratic Party, figuring out how to re-establish itself with this community is important. For the Republican Party, figuring out who speaks for the Republican Party and what role the anti-immigration forces within will play is important."
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