Las Vegas Sun

June 2, 2015

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Letter from Washington:

Obama’s new immigration policy boosts enthusiasm, not necessarily new voters

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President Barack Obama’s announcement last month that young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children will soon be eligible for temporary work visas instead of being deported earned him praise from Latino leaders and a noticeable boost in the polls.

So far, though, it’s hard to tell if Obama’s new policy will spur Hispanics to get out and vote.

Voter registration is an important gauge of pre-election enthusiasm, especially when it comes to the Latino community. In recent elections, the swing bloc has wielded considerable force in battleground states such as Nevada by virtue of its ever-growing size.

National organizers for the National Council of La Raza, in Las Vegas for their annual conference this weekend, and other nonpartisan Latino advocacy groups have high hopes of continuing the recent trend of increasing “historical turnouts.” They say they’ve registered 35,000 would-be voters across the country, many of whom responded to Obama’s policy shift.

But in Nevada, efforts aren’t far enough along to judge the effect of the new policy.

“It’s very difficult to measure just exactly how much impact it has had,” said Fernando Romero, director of Hispanics in Politics and a regional representative for NCLR. “Yes, there is enormous enthusiasm. But we still need to see what will come out in the details. At that point, I think, we can really tell if there has been an increase in the voter registration.”

Part of his reasoning is based on numbers. According to political campaigns director Rafael Collazo, NCLR has registered fewer than 2,500 Latino voters in Nevada. The organization took from mid-May to mid-June off to regroup, making comparisons difficult.

Mi Familia Vota, an organization exclusively dedicated to citizenship and voter registration, has registered about 7,000 in Nevada, state director Leo Murrieta said. But the increase since Obama’s announcement was modest. It registered about 1,550 voters in May and about 1,800 in June.

“It was a pleasant surprise,” Murrietta said, explaining that even a bump of 250 is something to celebrate before September, when there’s a big push that coincides with a national voter registration day. “There’s going to be excitement as we get closer to the election.”

Even then, fewer organizations will be operating than in years past.

The Hispanic Institute, which registered more than 10,000 Nevada Latinos in 2010, decided to sit this cycle out, and won’t change its mind for one presidential declaration.

“It’s tough for us, organizationally, to put a message out there,” director Gus West said.

He said it’s difficult to mobilize voters around the immigration records of either Obama or his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney. That wasn’t the case with Sen. Harry Reid in 2010.

“It was an easier time for us to be involved in that race than it is now,” West said.

Representatives of local chapters of the Culinary Union and the Service Employees International Union, both of which were involved in voter registration efforts in the past, did not return requests for comment for this article.

With just four months left until Election Day, both parties have considerable ground to make up. Until his announcement, Obama saw slumping support in the Hispanic voting bloc, which had turned out strong for him in 2008. Republicans have yet to show that their efforts to build up the party’s profile in Hispanic circles have succeeded.

If campaigns are looking for any political indications in the modest crop of new voters, they likely won’t find them.

“They’re not coming out strong for Democrats, they’re not coming out strong for Republicans,” Murrieta said. “As we get closer to the election, people are going to start paying more attention.”

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