Reaching Our Potential: Latinos and the Election of 2012

Reaching Our Potential: Latinos and the Election of 2012
Foto: AP

How many Latinos will vote in this year’s election? That seems to be the question weighing on everyone’s mind this election year, particularly in light of the Latino electorate’s increasing numbers in this country.

With more than 50.5 million Latinos in the United States today, our community has emerged as one of the fastest growing, and the second-largest, population groups in the country. This rapid growth has resulted in a substantial increase in the number of eligible Latino voters, with nearly half a million Latinos becoming eligible to vote each year. By the time of the November election, the Latino electorate will reach 21 million.

Latino voters made history in 2008, with over 9.7 million casting ballots in the presidential election that year.  According to projections from our organization, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund, the Latino electorate is set to exceed those numbers in 2012, with 12.2 million Latino voters expected to head to the polls on Election Day.

Though the bar is set high, we know the potential impact of our electorate on the country’s political process this year is even greater.  Independent analysis and field work tell us that when the two biggest barriers to political participation are addressed – lack of meaningful engagement and information on the electoral process – we can motivate Latino voters to head to the polls in even larger numbers. In the coming months, our organization will be hard at work implementing an unprecedented voter engagement program that will aim to address these two issues.

As part of these efforts, we will provide hundreds of thousands of Latino voters with vital information in both English and Spanish on every aspect of the electoral process; from registering to vote, to voter identification requirements, to finding their polling place on Election Day. In addition, the award winning and successful non-partisan civic participation coalition campaign, ya es hora ¡Ve y Vota! (It’s time. Go and vote!), and its partners will be in full operation to mobilize voters and help our electorate reach its potential in 2012.

We cannot do it alone though. We will need your help reaching out to eligible Latino voters in your families, churches, schools and communities.  Getting these individuals involved in the electoral process in 2012 will serve as a crucial first step in establishing a culture of political participation among eligible voters that lasts long after the votes are tallied this November.

The stakes are high, not just for ourselves, but for the generations that follow us.  Increased participation in our political system is the best mechanism for securing a thriving and vibrant democracy that is responsive to the needs of our community and all Americans. With Latinos comprising an increasingly significant share of the electorate in this country, the health of our democracy will depend in large part on our ability to motivate eligible Latino voters to participate in the electoral process year in and year out.

The upcoming election provides the perfect opportunity for us to begin to lay the foundation for a strong culture of political participation within our community. Let’s make 2012 count by showing up at the polls on November 6th.

If we do, our community will be one step closer to reaching our potential in 2012 and beyond.

Arturo Vargas is the Executive Director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund.  The organization is the nation’s leading non-partisan, non-profit organization that facilitates full Latino participation in the American political process, from citizenship to public service.