Colorado Latinos turned out in record numbers

A pro-Latino voter plackard reads 'Our voice is our vote, we are the political force.' (Photo/Erin Rosa)
A pro-Latino voter plackard reads 'Our voice is our vote, we are the political force.' (Photo/Erin Rosa)

Latino voters turned out in record numbers in Colorado this year, more than doubling their turnout since 2004, according to recent polling data.

More than 330,000 Latinos voted in the state last week, compared with 165,000 in 2004, based on exit polling from media outlets like the Wall Street Journal and Voto Latino, a national nonprofit organization that organized Latino voting drives in the state.

The data also shows that the share of Latino voters in Colorado has increased by 9 points to 17 percent since 2004. Nationally Latinos increased their share of the vote from 8 percent in 2004 to 9 percent in 2008, according to The Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research organization.

Experts say the record turnout in Colorado was spurred by countless hours spent on organizing Spanish-speaking populations to vote.

Voto Latino, championed by celluloid celebrities including Rosario Dawson, was among groups mounting large voter registration and outreach efforts in Colorado. The group signed up nearly 30,000 young Latinos in key battleground states from January through the end of the primaries in June.

The biggest boost in turnout came from Latino voters in Colorado, according to Joelle Martinez, an adviser to Voto Latino who assisted with organizing efforts in the state.

“The increase can be attributed to an aggressive voter registration effort and get-out-the-vote activities, which included early and absentee voting,” Martinez said.

On Election Day, Voto Latino focused its efforts specifically on Latino turnout in the Denver area, Pueblo and Weld counties, because those areas have Latino populations higher than 25 percent, according to federal census figures from 2006. Voto Latino partnered with organizations such as the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 and Latina Initiative.

Maria Teresa Petersen, founding executive director of Voto Latino, claims the Latino vote is changing the country’s electorate.

“On a national level we have witnessed a literal shift in the electoral map that corresponds to the larger demographic changes in this country since the last presidential election in 2004,” Petersen said.

The Pew Center reported that the Latino vote was significantly more Democratic this year than in 2004, a year when President George W. Bush snagged an estimated 40 percent of the voting demographic, which ranges in diversity from Mexican-Americans in the southwestern states to Cuban-Americans in Florida and Puerto Ricans in New York.

Petersen notes it would be wrong to take the demographic for granted and assume that Latinos will vote blue.

“The significance of this election demonstrates a potential for the Democratic Party to solidify the Latino vote, but is not necessarily a done deal for Democrats,” said Petersen. “For Republicans to succeed in realigning and galvanizing Latino support in the future, however, [would require] an immediate re-look at the immigration issues that have proved divisive, or a risk of losing this significant electorate for good.”

“The Latino vote was motivated both by Barack Obama’s campaign and growing economic concerns,” Martinez said. “The record increase in Latino voter turnout also had a direct impact on the down ticket, which resulted in victory for both [congressional Democrats] Sen. Mark Udall and Rep. Betsy Markey.”

In Colorado the polls reported that Latinos supported Democrat Obama and running mate Joe Biden over Republicans John McCain and Sarah Palin by a ratio of more than 2-1, with 73 percent backing Obama and 27 percent supporting McCain.

Nationally, Latinos preferred Obama by a margin of 67 percent to 31 percent, according to the Pew center.

Growing influence

Along with Voto Latino, organizations such as Mi Familia Vota and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials implemented a three-point strategy to turn out Latino voters on Election Day in Denver, Weld and Pueblo counties.

The plan included distributing door hangers and canvassing door to door in Latino neighborhoods, reminding individuals to vote. The organizations also provided Spanish-language assistance to voters with poll questions.

Latinos accounted for half the population growth in the United States since 2000, with five Colorado counties reporting dramatic increases of 41 percent or more, according to another study released from the Pew center in October.

Five counties — Denver, Douglas, Arapahoe, Garfield and Eagle — all had Hispanic populations increase by more than 41 percent, a statistic that indicates “fast growth,” according to the study, which examined federal census data.

The same counties in the state also reported steady “fast growth” in the 1990s.

Federal estimates peg Colorado’s Latino population at 20 percent of the state’s total population, and the number has shown no signs of declining in the past 10 years.

Despite protests in some corners of an “invasion” of Spanish-speakers to the United States, overall Latino population is just 15 percent of the nation’s total population, and no Colorado county was listed in either the top 25 Latino population centers or highest-growth regions in the country.

For census purposes, the Pew center uses the term “Hispanic”— referring to persons who come from 19 predominantly Spanish-speaking countries or who consider themselves of Spanish heritage from Central and South America, the Caribbean or Spain.

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