June Kronholz article “Uphill Climb: Registering Hispanics to Vote” in today’s Wall St. Journal provides a discouraging update on efforts to register Latino voters. If Kronholz is right, and we need to hear from other sources on this, Hispanic registration and turnout will fall well short of optimistic goals bandied about in the wake of this year’s massive demonstrations in support of immigrant rights. The stakes are high, and the immigration issue could be pivotal in specific races, as Kronholz notes:
Hispanics are the largest minority group in the U.S. and account for more than half of all foreign-born immigrants. But historically, most of them can’t or don’t file for citizenship, and most of those who do file don’t vote. For example, during a recent week, 28,000 immigrants became citizens. If past patterns hold, 6,160 are Hispanic, and just 3,572 of them will register to vote.
The untapped potential means both political parties have much at stake in the immigration debate. The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, an advocacy group, estimates there are 9.4 million immigrants — both Hispanic and non-Hispanic — who are eligible to become citizens and vote. That is almost three times the popular-vote margin for President Bush in the 2004 election.
In a half-dozen swing states, the immigrant vote this year could be decisive for the party that can harness it. The Illinois Coalition says that in Florida, there are 870,000 potential votes among immigrants eligible to naturalize and their voting-age U.S.-born children. An additional 77,000 U.S.-born children of immigrants will be old enough to cast ballots in Florida in the 2008 election, it adds.
The WSJ article has an interesting chart noting that, while Hispanics are the largest demographic minority, they remain a distant third in eligible voters and voter turnout. There are 148.2 million white citizens over the age of 18, compared to 23.3 million African Americans, 16.1 million Latinos and 3.3 million Asians nationwide. But the 2004 voter turnout percentages show an even greater gap that cries out for a more aggressive voter registration program by Democrats: white 67; Black 60; Hispanic 47 and Asian 44.
Voter registration deadlines for ’06 have passed in most states, but it’s not too late to put more resources into increasing turnout. And on the morning after the election, Dems should begin planning for a stronger registration program for ’08.