Latinos: To Vote or Not to Vote?

10/21/2010 04:25 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Political apathy is irresponsible; surrendering our right to vote is dangerous. Yet, as we approach the midterm elections of November 2nd, a delicate question has risen in our community: to vote or not to vote?

A recent poll by the Pew Hispanic Center shows that Latinos registered to vote have the lowest voter motivation in this election. Just one-third (32%) of all registered Latino voters say they have given this year's election "quite a lot" of thought. Also, only half (51%) of registered Latino voters say they are absolutely certain they will vote in this year's midterm election.

The low motivation is directly correlated with immigration reform. Latinos have valid reasons to be disappointed with some of the political leaders who have failed to demonstrate the political will to drive immigration reform, but we also have to be careful and consider what could happen if we do not participate in this election. We could allow extremist, xenophobic, angry voices, which have been running on an anti-immigrant platform, to increase their political power and lead the nation in that direction.

Our daily lives are affected by different number of issues and we must elect representatives who have pushed, and will continue to push, an agenda that benefits our community as a whole. From health care to civil, human, and labor rights, financial reform, education and the stimulus - these are all initiatives that have direct positive effects for our community. Let's not forget that at this crucial moment.

Unfortunately there are some, even within our own community, who want to reduce our voice to a whisper - irresponsible voices which are asking Latinos not to vote. This is a cheap game to gain political power in competitive districts. For example, in Nevada, a Republican operative, President of Latinos for Reform Robert Desposada, paid $80,000 for a Spanish ad to air on Univision. In it, they urge Latinos not to vote due to the failure of politicians to pass immigration reform (Univision ultimately rejected the ad). This is a well-calculated move, and it is being copied by others. They believe that if they convince the majority of Latinos (65 percent of whom would vote Democrat this election) not to vote, then others have a better chance to win. We cannot fall prey to these cheap political games.

Disengagement from the political process is simply the wrong answer. Staying home on Election Day will castrate a key element of our political power. It would be recognition of weakness and dependency on somebody else to fix our problems. It would equate to the self-silencing of our community.

This is not about Democrats or Republicans or the Tea Party; this is about the historical struggle for minorities in this nation to gain the power to vote and use it. At a time when it is no exaggeration to say that the Latino and the immigrant community is under attack on many different levels, we must participate in the democratic process for empowerment. Not only have we suffered a drastic increase in hate crimes and racism against our community, but we also have the highest risk of death and injury at work, an increased to wage theft and the lowest access to health care, just to mention some of our most serious concerns. If that is not enough to motivate our community and be aggressive to fight for our issues and elect better representatives, then what is?

The health of a democracy is the participation and collectivity of all individuals. Those who do not come to the table and do not participate in the political process will only get the leftovers of democracy, the leftovers of the system. We should not be OK with a system of conformity.

The reality is that today we are better organized than ever before. Latinos in the nation have emerged as a solid key voting group and we are in a fight for full respect and rights in our community. While there is frustration, the fact is that more Latinos are expected to vote in this midterm election than ever before - nearly one million more will vote this year than in the midterm elections of 2006. Several key races hinge on the Latino turnout. That's a trend we need to continue, and in the end, it is the best way to gain viable political clout if we want to secure the progress of our community and our children.