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Latino Vote 2012: Decline In Hispanic Voters Fuels Registration Drive

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JayDanny Cooper, standing along the side of a highway March 13, 2012, in Birmingham, Ala., urged Alabama residents to vote in the primary.
JayDanny Cooper, standing along the side of a highway March 13, 2012, in Birmingham, Ala., urged Alabama residents to vote in the primary.

An alarming decline in registered Hispanic voters has prompted Latino leaders to reassess voter registration drive strategies and to renew fundraising pleas for the efforts.

A coalition of Hispanic groups earlier this month announced a voter registration drive aimed at increasing Latino voters. The groups said their goal was to register 2 million new voters for the general election in November, bringing the total number of registered Latinos to 12 million.

That was before the March 6 release of a study of U.S. Census statistics by the William C. Velasquez Institute, a non-profit Latino advocacy group, that revealed a reversal in the number of Hispanic voters and raised doubts about estimates of the number of Latinos who would be able to vote in 2012.

"We brought this to the attention of the folks who were making decisions about where to allocate resources," Brent Wilkes, executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, told The Huffington Post. "Pointing to the report has been an important part of making sure we reinforce the need for specific campaigns focused on the Latino community."

The study found Latino voter registration declined in the years 2006 and 2010. "We see that for the first time since the 1970s that Latino voter registration did not grow in consecutive non-presidential cycles," Velasquez Institute president Antonio Gonzalez said in a statement.

The study found that Hispanic voter registration consistently grew in presidential and mid-term election years from 1972 to 2004, with the exception of 1989-1990. The declines in 2006 and 2010 stall that growth pattern, Gonzalez said, and dramatically affect projections about the number of Latinos registered to vote in the general election in November.

"A significant decline in national Latino voter registration in 2010 may diminish the size of Latino voter turnout in November 2012 by more than a million votes," Gonzalez added.

The study's authors theorized that recession may be at least partly the reason for the decline. Hispanics who lost jobs may have moved in search of new work without registering to vote at their new address.

Democrats and Republicans have recognized the need to attract Latinos. Hispanics already represent 16 percent of the population and some 22 million eligible voters. By 2050, Latinos are expected to reach 30 percent of the population.

Latinos skew heavily Democratic, and 67 percent of Hispanic voters supported President Barack Obama in 2008.

Latino leaders say disappointment with Obama's failure to keep promises on immigration reform and increased deportation levels, and harsh Republican immigration rhetoric could also be depressing Latino registration.

"One party is beating up on Latinos because it's the easy thing to do. The other is saying, 'Well, where else are they going to go?'" Maria Teresa Kumar, executive director of Voto Latino told Roll Call.

Party officials acknowledged the assessment.

"On the Republican side, you've got a group of people that their semantic is, I think, seen as very anti-immigrant," Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart told The Huffington Post. "On the Democratic side, you have these false promises that now are being seen as, frankly, just outright lies. So I think both those reason are why there is such disappointment."

Wilkes also blamed new registration and voter identification laws, as well as strict new rules on voter drives for limiting the numbers. The study's identification of states with the greatest declines is helping to guide planning and fundraising.

The interim president of the Hispanic Federation, Jose Calderon, told The Huffington Post that the study "really is kind of an urgent call to foundations and other funders to support Latino civic engagement efforts."

Leaders of the coalition of Hispanic groups involved in the voter registration drive said they remain optimistic and motivated.

"It's kind of similar to what happened with the census," said Calderon. "A lot of people mobilized around that to make sure that Latinos understood the importance of participating in the census and what that meant for local communities."

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