World

Undocumented Immigrants Get Out The Vote - at Their Own Risk

In this photograph taken Sunday, Oct. 16, 2010, Maria Gianni poses for a portrait at a phone bank in Seattle being used by OneAmerica Votes, an organization that has launched a vote drive targeting naturalized citizen voters. Gianni, an illegal immigrant, volunteers with the organization as it tries to steer immigrant voters toward Democratic candidates.  (AP Photo/Manuel Valdes)

In this photograph taken Sunday, Oct. 16, 2010, Maria Gianni poses for a portrait at a phone bank in Seattle being used by OneAmerica Votes, an organization that has launched a vote drive targeting naturalized citizen voters. Gianni, an illegal immigrant, volunteers with the organization as it tries to steer immigrant voters toward Democratic candidates. (AP Photo/Manuel Valdes)

María Gianni is getting out the vote for Nov. 2 – even though she won’t be able to cast a ballot herself.

The 42-year-old is one of dozens of volunteers in the Washington state area who is campaigning on behalf of Democratic Senator Patty Murray, who is in a neck-to-neck race with Republican Dino Rossi.

The small group, many without documents, feels it’s a risk worth taking.

Pramila Jayapal, head of OneAmerica Votes, says the campaign is about empowering immigrants who may not feel like they can contribute to a campaign because they can't vote.

"Immigrants really do matter," Jayapal said. "If we can't vote ourselves, we're gonna knock on doors, or get family members to vote."

So far, the volunteers aren’t meeting opposition.

Craig Keller, an organizer for Respect WA, a group pushing for stricter immigration law in the Washington area, said he doesn't mind undocumented immigrants volunteering for vote drives, he just wants to make sure mistakes on the voter rolls don't allow them to vote.

"Anybody can go out and wave a sign, but when it comes to who's making the choices, there's no question they need to be citizens," Keller said.

In close elections across the country, candidates, particularly Democrats, are clamoring for the immigrant and Hispanic vote.

Earlier this week in Nevada, a television ad urging Latinos not to vote sparked outcry from Democrats, who called it a dirty trick meant to keep Hispanics home and boost Republican candidates. Univisión and Telemundo — the nation's two largest Spanish-language networks — canceled the ad, which the Republican group Latinos for Reform had planned to eventually run in Nevada, Florida, California, Texas and Colorado through the Nov. 2 election.

OneAmerica Votes launched one of the largest get-out-the-vote campaigns in the state on behalf of Democratic candidates. The organization is an offshoot of OneAmerica, one of the state's largest and the most influential immigrant-rights advocacy group.

Through home visits, phone banks and mailings the organization is aiming to reach about 40,000 registered voters in the Seattle area in an attempt to help Democrats gain ground in key races. Volunteers include other types of people who can't vote, such as legal permanent residents.

About 150 volunteers rolled out in nine cities across Washington this past week, knocking on 3,000 doors.

In Bellevue, a city of nearly 123,000 east of Seattle, Gianni knocked on 25 doors and spoke to 15 people, she said.

One man, a naturalized citizen from the Philippines, said he knew what she was going through after she shared she was in the country without documents.

"There's always a risk," Gianni said in Spanish about her legal status. "But if there's a change, I would feel like I contributed, even in a small part, to a change we all need."

Gianni arrived in the United States on a visa 13 years ago looking for work and stayed. For a while her only son lived here, but has since moved back to México.

"In order for there to be a change to our broken immigration system," she said, "I believe one has to fight."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.