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HavanaJournal.com: Cuban Americans

Hispanics could tip elections

Posted October 27, 2004 by publisher in Cuban Americans.
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Geralda Miller | RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL

Julio Cisneros became a U.S. citizen earlier this year and recently exercised one of its most valued privileges — he voted. Cisneros stood in line more than an hour with several new citizens on the first day the polls opened in Reno to vote in the presidential election.

“I think I did what I had to do in order to ensure a better life for all the U.S. citizens and all the rest of the world,” the 36-year-old Cisneros said after voting.

After a rigorous effort to register Hispanics to vote in Northern Nevada, organizations and party activists are busily ensuring Hispanics understand the ballot and get to the polls while the political campaigns are spending millions in Spanish-speaking advertising.

“They’re important to the point that they are a significant presence in the remaining battleground states,” said Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center, a national Hispanic research group. “If the election is as close as the polls say it is now, it can be decided by a whole variety of niches.”

The registrar of voters does not identify registrants by race. However, Suro said they surmised that Hispanics account for about 13 percent of the eligible voters in the state ó about a 50 percent increase of eligible Hispanics since 2000.

“Which is a lot of new voters,” Suro said. “It adds a little bit to the unpredictability where you’ve got a substantial Hispanic vote in a battleground state.”

Both Republicans and Democrats are wooing Hispanics in the state. There are 68,835 Hispanics in Washoe County, according to the U.S. Census.

A survey of 2,288 Hispanic adults conducted by Pew and the Kaiser Family Foundation between April 21 and June 9 found that 45 percent said they were registered as Democrats, 20 percent considered themselves Republican and 21 percent said they were Independents.

While Bush has maintained a slight lead in the polls, Suro said those numbers exclude Hispanics.

“Almost all of the polling you’re seeing on this election is done in English,” Suro said. “That potentially leaves out 20 to 25 percent of the Latino vote. That could be 3 or 4 percent of potential voters aren’t being polled.”

Although two-thirds of eligible voters are U.S. born, that leaves one-third that do not speak English as their first language, he said.

Before riding in a caravan to the registrar of voters, Cisneros, news director for Univision television in Reno, and about 20 other Latinos met at the office of Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, and were educated on their voting rights and how to read the ballot.

Rosa Molina, director of the PLAN citizenship project, said most of the 225 Latinos who studied with her and became citizens have attended one of the 10 classes she conducted.

“I’m getting the new citizens familiar with the political process, especially the electoral process for election 2004,” Molina said. “Oh my God, I’m so excited.”

Grass roots campaign

Molina is not alone in her grass-roots campaigning.

Roberto Nerey, chairman of Mexican American Democrats, is meeting with Hispanics in homes to review the ballot. Nerey said he formed the political organization last year to get Latinos involved in the political process.

“We’ve managed to get people who are interested in this political process to call us and say, ‘Now we’ve got our ballots, what do we do? What is this all about?’” Nerey said.

On Wednesday evening, Nerey and Theresa Navarro, who is running for school board trustee, sat at a dining room table with four Hispanics reviewing their ballots. It was their fourth home visit that night, Nerey said.

For the first time, the ballot questions are in Spanish, a move Nerey was happy to see. However, Navarro had her reservations.

“They did it in Spanish but it doesn’t help,” she said. “You have to be highly educated to read it in English. How can you read it in Spanish?”

Rachel Vallejo, of Sun Valley, said she had found the voting process intimidating and therefore had not registered to vote until two months ago.

“All this perfect English in this book,” the 26-year-old said. “Sometimes we don’t understand it.”

But after discussing the questions with Navarro and Nerey, the Washoe High School graduate said she is ready.

“Now I actually understand the questions that are in that book,” she said. “Now I really want to vote and make my vote count.”

More eligible voters

Tahis Castro, community liaison for the Culinary Union, said she has become familiar with eligible Hispanic voters in Reno and Sparks. She is walking precincts for Debbie Smith, who is running as a Democrat for Assembly District 30.

“This is something I enjoy doing,” she said. “I love to talk with people about this. I love to make them understand why it is important that they have to vote. We have been telling them that we’re going to make the difference. The Latinos in Northern Nevada are going to decide this election.”

She is part of a team of six that has knocked on the doors of 1,933 Hispanics and made 1,860 contacts since Sept. 13, said Castro. They are placing door hangers at every Hispanic residence and contacting undecided voters.

“When we started this campaign, 54 percent of the Latinos were Democrat and supposedly would vote for Debbie and 26 percent were Republicans and 29 percent were other or undecided,” Castro said of Smith’s district. “We turned this around and now we have almost 80 percent Democrats.”

While people like Molina, Nerey and Castro are working in the trenches for the Hispanic vote, both the Bush/Cheney and Kerry/Edwards campaigns are running television and radio advertising in Hispanic media outlets.

Sharon Castillo, spokeswoman for Bush/Cheney, said that almost $5 million has been spent nationally on 25 Spanish-language radio and television ads.

The campaign also has trained thousands of volunteers in the state to walk precincts and make phone calls in Spanish, Castillo said.

Not providing an amount, spokesman Sean Smith said the Kerry/Edwards campaign is advertising “heavily” statewide in Spanish-speaking markets.

“It is a constituency that we take very seriously,” Smith said. “I think we are asking them for their vote with the extensive efforts that we are taking. It is very important to us.”

Eduardo Wagner, executive director for the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Reno, said he wants to hear how important the Hispanic vote is from the candidates. Speaking a few words of Spanish, eating at a Hispanic restaurant or visiting a place frequented by Hispanics is not enough, he said.

“Say, ‘We want the Hispanic vote. We know that you’re here as part of the Reno, Northern Nevada community and we want your vote,’” Wagner advised the candidates. “I have not heard that from any of them.”

U.S. Sen. John Kerry spoke to Hispanics during his speech Friday at Lawlor Events Center on the University of Nevada, Reno campus, asking in Spanish for their vote.

“This is the most important election of our lives,” he told the crowd in Spanish. “I need your help, I need your vote.”

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