Low Latino voting in Utah may leave them politically vulnerable

Published: Friday, Aug. 27 2010 12:31 a.m. MDT

Cordova has worked for years with the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project to try to tell Latinos they can make a difference. But he said most funding from that group goes to states with larger Hispanic populations, "so we kind of just get what is left over."

Amid controversy over the Sandstrom bill, Communities United, a local Hispanic advocacy group, also launched a recent registration education drive called "Mi Voto Cuenta," or "My Vote Counts." At the launch ceremony last month, director Sabrina Morales said, "By not voting, we are abdicating our right to influence government and allowing the will of others — whose opinions may be contrary to our own — to prevail."

At a summit of Latino groups earlier this month to discuss the Sandstrom bill, the topic of how to improve Latino voting arose. And several leaders had the same main suggestion.

"The way to get people to vote is to get one of us out there" as a candidate, said John Florez, a former deputy assistant secretary of labor in the George H.W. Bush administration. Florez said Latino turnout is high in races with Hispanic candidates.

Jowers at the Hinckley Institute agreed, saying, "When people identify with a candidate, they get out and vote at far greater rates — whether they identify with a candidate's ethnicity, gender, religion or certain issues. When they feel underrepresented by candidates and officials, their enthusiasm dampens."

Still, Jowers said it would be short-sighted of Utah politicians to take advantage of low turnout among Latinos now.

"Even if they get away with it for the next few years, there is no question that Hispanics are a growing force in American politics. Actions taken now will have impacts decades from now," he said.

"Political office holders in Utah who discount the Latino vote do so at their own peril, and need only to look back a dozen years to California to see what happens when a party does that," he added, saying upset Latinos there helped displace the party and politicians who took actions they viewed as targeting them.

e-mail: lee@desnews.com

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