“Su Voto Es Su Voz.” Heard or read that before? Between now and November, anyone with a radio, television or Internet might want to get used to the phrase. Both political parties will be reminding people endlessly that ‘your voice is your vote.’
The 2012 presidential election is expected to be especially tight and voters are being told that every vote is crucial; every voice needs to be heard. And, perhaps more important than ever before, Latino participation is essential.
But, if each vote in this election is critical, why — with only three months remaining before the election — are there so many potential Colorado voters, including thousands of Latinos, not registered?
Both major parties are working overtime to register voters for the November election. In Colorado and a handful of key states, Latino voters could decide who occupies the White House for the next four years.
On Saturday, Democrats went door to door in scores of towns and communities in Colorado and across the country finding out who is registered to vote, letting people know why the upcoming election is so important or simply telling potential voters the easiest way to register to vote in November.
Include former presidential cabinet secretary and Denver Mayor Federico Peña as someone who was busy over the weekend. Peña, co-chair of President Obama’s reelection committee, was one Democrat busy knocking on doors or ringing doorbells on Saturday.
Peña spent the day in the sun rallying support for the president and explaining to as many people as he could why the stakes are so high in this election and why each vote is important.
“Michael Bennet won his (Senate) election by less than one vote per precinct statewide — less than one vote per precinct statewide! That’s how close these elections can get,” he says. “And this one’s going to be very close.”
But as workers canvass communities trying to get voters registered, Democrats say there is a whole other competing force at work — in Colorado and a number of other states — that is pulling in the opposite direction.
It is being lead in Colorado by Secretary of State Scott Gessler. Gessler, a Republican, says he is trying to unregister voters to ensure that there is no voter fraud. “Voter fraud undermines our electoral system,” Gessler said in a news release. He says he plans to continue purging suspect names from the rolls until he is satisfied only eligible voters cast a ballot.
For his effort, Gessler has so far found 85 suspect names, including some belonging to non-citizens. Of those, 29 may have voted in recent elections. The names were obtained by combing through jail records in the state’s ten largest counties.
Democrats dispute Gessler’s claim and call it nothing more than a Republican ploy to trim Latinos and other minorities from election rolls. They say there is no serious pattern of voter fraud in Colorado.
In the 2008 presidential election, county clerks counted a grand total of six cases of voter fraud out of 2.4 million ballots cast.
In Denver’s most recent election, Gessler also attempted to block ballots from being mailed to inactive voters — those who had skipped the previous election. The ballots went out as scheduled.
Since January 2011, a total of 19 states have enacted new laws requiring voters to show government issued identification in order to vote. The legislation has resulted in changes in voting hours, an end to Sundays as days for voter registration and an effort to purge potentially legitimate but recently inactive voters from election rolls.
It has also resulted in a number of lawsuits from groups representing voters upset with a pattern say is nothing more than voter suppression.
In Texas, a voter’s rights group is suing the state because the new law requires official state photo identification be shown before voting. Peña argues that having to spend money for official state identification amounts to “a poll tax.”
Literacy tests and poll taxes — fees once charged to African Americans voters in southern states — became illegal with the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Peña calls these new laws punitive. A lot of seniors, he says, would be hard pressed to even locate a birth certificate while many others no longer possess a driver’s license.
Coincidentally or by design, new voter ID laws have been enacted in five Republican-controlled states — Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida, New Hampshire and Ohio — that Democrats say are crucial to President Obama’s reelection. In Pennsylvania, an estimated 800,000 voters could be impacted.
“We have a lot of work to do,” says Colorado State Sen. Lucia Guzman, who hosted a Get Out The Vote reception on Saturday. “Seniors who may not have their birth certificate or may not have an on-line opportunity (to register)” will be especially challenged, she says. “These things will keep them from voting.”
In Colorado, Latino voters represent the Holy Grail for both parties. In 2008, 70 percent of Colorado Latino voters cast ballots for the president. Democrats are hoping to increase that number this time around. Republicans, on the other hand, will be doing everything they can to hold the line while enticing Latinos to give them a try in November.
Working in the Republican’s favor in 2012 is Colorado’s problematic economy. They believe they can make a case for the Latino vote by simply pointing to the state’s jobless rate, which now sits at just over 8 percent and slightly higher for Latinos.
For the next hundred days it will be a tug of war for the hearts and minds of Colorado’s Latino voters. If Democrats can figure out a way to encourage Latinos to hold ranks, Colorado will remain blue (as in a ‘blue’ state). But, if Republicans somehow siphon away Latino votes, they stand a fighting chance of turning the state red.
The wildcard in this election could be the 163,000 Colorado Latinos whose voter registration has either lapsed or who are simply not registered.
Hang on, say the parties. It could be a bumpy ride.