Strengthening A Voting Bloc: Pushing for an impressive Latino turnout

Christian Diaz woke up at 4 a.m. on Election Day. It was still dark as he made his way to Ames Middle School in Logan Square for the 5:50 a.m. meeting with a group of volunteers. Fortified with coffee, they headed out to knock on the doors of registered Latino voters in the area.

Historically minorities and low-income people have had a comparatively lower voter turnout. Groups like Diaz's, with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, headed to “L”stations, knocked on doors and made phone calls to try to reverse the trend.

How voter turnout went today depends on who you ask. Diaz says he has been disappointed in the Latino turnout, despite weeks of registration drives leading up to Nov. 6.

"The morning has been very slow, we haven't seen that many people at the polls," said Diaz, who is in charge of registering Latino voters and recently naturalized immigrants. "There may be a lot of confusion about polling locations because of the redistricting of the ward and its precincts."

"But that just gives us more motivation," he said.

The number of Hispanics eligible to vote nationally has grown since 2008. There were 19.5 million eligible voters then; now there are 23.4 million, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

In Chicago, Latino people comprise 28 percent of the city's population; at the state level, they are 16 percent of the population.

The 2008 election of Barack Obama saw a record turnout of minority voters. But minorities still had a 15 to 20 percent smaller proportional turnout than whites, and Latino people voted in particularly low percentages, according to the Brookings Institute.

People watching the overall voter turnout said they expected a high number of Chicagoans to vote in this election.

"We know that during early voting there were some really long lines," said Rebecca Reynolds, program director with Chicago Votes. "Today we also had some voters say there was a pretty long line at their polling location and they were worried about getting to work on time."

Advocates say the spate of bills introduced this year to tackle voter fraud are actually aimed at keeping minorities from voting. Billboards in Ohio and Wisconsin warning about the risk of voter fraud only went up in minority neighborhoods. They were removed after a lot of public pressure.

In Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, Carlos Carmona came out to vote.

"We need a president to help us poor with public aid," the 24-year-old said. "Just imagine what it would be like without food stamps."

But for those who didn't make it to the polls, Diaz said one possible reason some Latino voters may stay away is that some feel there is no clear choice for president.

"On the one hand, Mitt Romney is someone who has been championing the idea of making living conditions so difficult that people self-deport," said Diaz. "On the other hand, we have Barack Obama, who has maybe done a couple of good things for the young undocumented, but we have seen more deportations under him than ever before."

Instead, Diaz said he argues to voters that a high turnout from the Latino community will get legislators to pay more attention to them as a voting bloc.

"One of the reasons we see both presidential candidates not really on our side of the issue is that the anti-immigrant people come out to vote every chance they get," Diaz said.

      For more news on LSNA on Election Day and the Elected School Board Campaign.