SB 1070, economy could boost Latino turnout, say activists
Experts have doubts about potential uptick in voting numbers
Amid stacks of voter-registration pamphlets and reminder mailers, three pairs of volunteers hunch over tables in Mi Familia Vota's Arizona headquarters, assembling voter-information packets and tallying registration numbers.
The nonpartisan activist group has already registered 14,000 Latinos since June for Arizona's Permanent Early Voting List and expects to register around 11,000 more by October, according to state director Francisco Heredia.
Heredia said this will be the year Latinos, feeling the pressure of the recession and concerned about the effects of SB 1070, will flock to the polls and wield the influence of their numbers.
"SB 1070 is definitely a motivating factor," Heredia said. "Latinos want to do something about this, and they want to do something this year."
This is not the first year activists have touted the voting potential of Latinos, who make up an estimated 31 percent of Arizona's population.
Political scientists and activists have differing views about whether this will be the year.
Bruce Merrill, a retired Arizona State University professor who directs the Cronkite/Eight Poll, said he's skeptical of claims that SB 1070 will suddenly and drastically change Latino voting behavior.
Merrill, who has been observing Arizona elections since 1968, said Latinos have consistently failed to vote in large numbers. That stems in part from a lower overall level of education, he said.
"Because of SB 1070, there may be a slight uptick, but … it would have no effect on the outcome of the election," he said.
If a July injunction on SB 1070 is lifted, the law would, among other provisions, make it a state crime to be in the country illegally.
Some Latinos see the law as an attack on a vulnerable population, according to James Garcia, a board member for the Arizona Latino Research Enterprise, a Latino-advocacy group.
But many are more concerned about keeping their jobs, he said.
"Latinos have been affected by the same things as everyone else: economic conditions, the recession," Garcia said.
Key concerns for Latino voters, he said, include job creation and the state of the housing market, issues that affect them on a daily basis more than immigration.
"There's a real fear of being unemployed," said Alonzo Morado, state director of Democracia U.S.A., another Latino voter-registration group.
Based on responses during the group's voter-registration efforts, "it's really about the bread-and-butter issues," Morado said.
After casting his vote in the primary, Phoenix resident Ruben Flores said fellow Latinos he's spoken with are most concerned about economic pressures.
Regardless of turnout, Flores said he's seen increased awareness among Latino voters.
"They're asking more questions," he said.
Phoenix attorney Sal Rivera has also seen growing interest among young Latinos through his work with the Arizona Latino Research Enterprise, of which he is chairman.
"A lot of children of immigrants saw that their parents couldn't vote or participate in the process," he said. "But now they want their turn."
David Berman, a senior researcher at ASU's Morrison Institute who specializes in campaigns and elections, said voter turnout will depend on how effectively Latino leaders engage voters.
"These are the kind of issues that can really affect behavior and attitudes, but the spark has to be mobilized," Berman said. "It has to come from the community."
Regardless of the turnout this year, Rebecca Rios, D-Apache Junction, said steps taken this year to mobilize Latino voters will pay dividends in the future.
"It's not going to be a tidal wave, but 10 years from now, will what is happening today have had an impact? Absolutely," said Rios, the Senate assistant minority leader. "I think it's definitely laying some building blocks for large Hispanic turnout over time."