POLITICS

Florida get-out-the-vote groups press for big Latino turnout in November

  • Canvassers Karla Ayala, left, and Amrry Gonzalez check their spreadsheet for a voter's address. (Photo: Francisco Alvarado/Fox News Latino)

    Canvassers Karla Ayala, left, and Amrry Gonzalez check their spreadsheet for a voter's address. (Photo: Francisco Alvarado/Fox News Latino)

  • Florida New Majority canvassers prepare to go knocking on doors. (Photo: Francisco Alvarado/Fox News Latino)

    Florida New Majority canvassers prepare to go knocking on doors. (Photo: Francisco Alvarado/Fox News Latino)

On a recent Saturday morning, about 24 Hispanic election canvassers gather in a second floor meeting space of an office building in Homestead, a small city in the southern fringes of Miami-Dade County, Florida. They all wear blue and yellow t-shirts bearing the logo of the Florida New Majority, a Democratic-leaning organization that is working to increase the number of minority voters in local and state elections.

Many of the workers voted in a U.S. election for the first time in 2012 and hail from Mexico and Central American countries like El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Their mission is to rally others like them to the polls for the election in November and, they hope, build on the momentum from the 2012 election, when a new wave of Hispanic voters helped Barack Obama win the state.

So far, it’s been a difficult task, according to some of the canvassers.

“It is like night and day when comparing 2012 to what is happening today,” said Guadalupe de la Cruz, a 24-year-old Mexican-American who supervises a team of six canvassers. “Two years ago, there was more excitement. But now people are afraid to open the door out of fear it might be an immigration agent coming for their relatives.”

And it’s not just that way in Homestead. Across Florida, enthusiasm among non-Cuban Latino voters is low, political analysts note.

“The turnout is not going to be as high in the Hispanic community as it was in 2012,” Armando Ibarra, a principal of Ai Advisory, a public affairs consulting firm, told Fox News Latino. “The reduction in turnout will affect Democratic candidates more than Republican candidates.”

Several factors play a role in diminished Hispanic voter interest, Ibarra explains. For one, Republicans traditionally out-perform Democrats during midterm elections. Secondly, people who voted for the first time in 2012 may not be completely accustomed to the electoral process.

“Their habit of going to the polls hasn’t been solidified through decades of voting like Cuban-Americans have,” Ibarra says. “When someone has only voted once or twice in their lives, that third time becomes harder.”

There is also a lack of strong Hispanic candidates running for high posts. In the previous mid-term election in 2010, there was U.S. Senate race that featured a young Cuban-American Republican star, Marco Rubio, who captured 55 percent of the Hispanic vote en route to victory.

This year, the lieutenant governor’s race does feature a Cuban-American Republican, Carlos Lopez Cantera, and a Colombian-American Democrat, Annette Taddeo-Goldstein, but it’s first and foremost a competition between the top dogs on the tickets, Gov. Rick Scott and Charlie Crist.

Apart from that, the only high-profile race featuring Hispanic candidates is the congressional showdown between Cuban-Americans Joe Garcia, the Democratic incumbent, and his Republican challenger, Carlos Curbelo.

“Curbelo will have an easier time turning out his base of largely Republican Cuban-American voters,” Ibarra believes. “A large number of voters who elected Garcia didn’t have a close connection with him. He will have a hard time getting them out, especially during a midterm election that favors Republicans.”

Groups like Florida New Majority aim to increase Garcia’s chances by reaching out to those 2012 voters through a massive door-to-door campaign.

Serena Perez, Florida New Majority’s campaign manager coordinating voter outreach in Homestead, said the goal is to remind non-Cuban Hispanic voters, as well as Haitian-Americans and African-Americans, that Garcia introduced an immigration reform bill that has garnered bipartisan support, and that he’s championed a bill raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

“Our goal is to knock on 25,000 doors,” said Perez, who emigrated from Ecuador to Miami in 2003. “So far, we have knocked on 10,000. We still have a lot more to knock on.”
After becoming a U.S. citizen following Obama’s win in 2008, Perez says she has voted in every local, state and federal election since. In 2010, she went to work for Florida New Majority.

“Voter engagement is a super effective tool our communities can use to make change happen,” she told FNL. “And it’s the one most people can participate in.”

Perez recruited others like de la Cruz, the young Mexican-American woman who leads her own team of canvassers.

“I started volunteering in 2012,” de la Cruz said. “The problem is that people don’t know how local and state elections affect them.”

Born in Miami, de la Cruz first voted in 2012, when she was 22. “I work with an organization that helps undocumented immigrants,” she said. “That’s what motivates me to go out and recruit voters. We need to be the voice for the people who can’t be represented.”

Francisco Alvarado is a freelance journalist in South Florida.

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