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July 18, 2018

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Nevada’s Hispanic voters stayed home, drifted away from Democrats

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Christopher DeVargas

Miguel Amaral, at right, attempts to register voters outside the E. Saraha DMV, Friday Sept. 12, 2014. Amaral is a field registrar for Mi Familia Vota, a non-partisan organization that encourages civic engagement among the Hispanic community.

There were no lines winding out the door, and occasionally idle poll workers would step outside and look around like the early arrivals to a party wondering if they have the wrong address.

Miguel Amarista, a registered Democrat, made the trip to his polling place in East Las Vegas on election day because he “always votes,” but sounded as if he would rather be someplace else.

“I’m voting for (Gov. Brian) Sandoval because he did a number of things for the community,” Amarista said. “For the most part, though, I’m frustrated with all of them. Nothing is getting done, and I can’t say I particularly support any of the candidates.”

It was a common refrain. The sugar high of cycle after cycle of compelling, well-funded races has worn off, and many Nevada voters were left with election headaches.

Turnout was low nationwide, and Hispanic voters were no outlier. Amarista showed up, but many others who voted previously stayed home. Apathetic after unfulfilled promises, Hispanics joined other voters in their disinterest with the election and disgust with government.

Democratic turnout was low overall, and Hispanics are more likely to be registered Democrats than Republicans. Contributing to the doldrums, support for Democrats among Hispanic voters ebbed during the midterm cycle. Polls show the lack of movement on immigration reforms was one motivating reason, an issue that President Barack Obama hopes to address when he speaks in Las Vegas today.

“Democrats have seen decreased enthusiasm in the percent of Latinos who think they truly care and are standing up for immigrant rights,” Matt Barreto, principal at Latino Decisions, said at a press conference the day after the election.

In 2008, Obama promised change, including immigration reform, and the majority of Hispanic voters supported him. In 2010, with a Tea Party uprising threatening reform, Nevada's Hispanic voters came out in record numbers to help Harry Reid foil Sharron Angle’s bid for his Senate seat.

In 2012, Obama again promised to tackle immigration reform, and again Hispanics hit the polls and overwhelmingly supported the president.

Then came 2014.

The debate over immigration reform stalled out, Obama put off further executive action and Democratic candidates did not push hard on the issue.

“We went from this scenario where for essentially the last 10 years we were constantly outdoing each other and making concerted efforts to reach voters, to a cycle where we saw half, maybe a quarter, of the investment of what voters had become accustomed to,” said Andres Ramirez, a Las Vegas political consultant and vice chairman for the Hispanic Caucus of the Democratic National Committee. “There wasn’t anything provocatively compelling about the races at the top of the ticket to mobilize and inspire voters, and our candidates and campaigns themselves weren’t investing as much money into mobilizing folks.”

Republicans and conservative groups, meanwhile, invested more in the state, built better organizations and had a popular name at the top of the ticket in Sandoval.

“Neither party can take the (Hispanic) vote for granted,” said Ronald Najaro, Southwest region spokesman for the Libre Initiative, an organization partly funded by Charles and David Koch that is pro-immigration reform and promotes conservative economic policy to Hispanics.

“You still earn votes by getting out into the community," Najaro said. "Latinos are a swing vote up for grabs. Democrats have done a great job of investing heavily and doing outreach and community events in the past, but now it’s the conservative side that is doing more outreach and they were able to swing the election their way.”

At the East Las Vegas Community Center, which sits in a heavily Hispanic area and frequently hosts events for the Hispanic community, early voting turnout was 1,144, the fewest at any of the Clark County early voting locations. Early voting accounted for 48 percent of all votes.

Statewide, 45 percent of voters cast a ballot. But state election data show that turnout in heavily Hispanic areas lagged the statewide average.

There are four Assembly districts where the Hispanic population is 50 percent or greater. All of them — districts 6, 11, 14 and 28 — are clustered to the north of downtown of Las Vegas.

The total turnout in those districts was 27 percent, or 18 percentage points lower than the statewide figure.

Hispanic voters didn't come to the polls even though Democrats had a rising Hispanic star running in the most important statewide race.

Lucy Flores, daughter of immigrants, represented one of those heavily Hispanic districts, 28, for two terms in the Assembly. This fall, she ran against Republican state Sen. Mark Hutchison for lieutenant governor.

But Flores failed to gain traction, collecting only 34 percent of the vote. That's 8 percentage points less than the previous Democrat won in the 2010 race.

“Flores is well known among political circles, but she’s only won two assembly races,” said UNLV political scientist David Damore. “It’s hard to make that leap to a statewide race, particularly when you get buried in money with no help from the top of the ticket. Her path was narrow to begin with.”

According to a Latino Decisions election-eve poll of early voters and likely election day voters, 71 percent of Hispanic voters cast ballots for Flores.

Overall, 72 percent of those surveyed said they were voting for the Democratic candidate in their House race, a big drop from 89 percent percent who said the same in 2010. That year, the Democratic candidate for governor, Rory Reid, won a higher percentage (84 percent) of the Hispanic vote than Flores did this year.

Sandoval, meanwhile, took 48 percent of the Hispanic vote, a 33 percent bump from 2010.

Barreto attributed some of the increase to the Democrat's weak challenger, but also pointed to Sandoval’s support for policies popular in the Hispanic community, such as increased funding for English Language Learners and approval of driver authorization cards.

Ebeth Palafox of Mi Familia Vota, a non-partisan organization working on Hispanic civic engagement, said those policies swayed Hispanic voters.

“We did have a few conversations with voters who were switching from independent to Republican or Democrat to Republican,” said Palafox. “They were generally in support of Sandoval and what they saw as support for issues that affect the community on a daily basis.”

Palafox said Mi Familia Vota canvassers also found lots of apathy among Hispanic voters.

“In our community the biggest issue came down to immigration,” she said. “I don’t have specific numbers on Latino turnout yet, but we do believe it was low compared to previous years. Immigration became a big sticking point when we knocked on doors because people were frustrated with the lack of action.”

According to the Pew Research Center, even though Hispanics made up 11 percent of eligible voters in 2014, up from 9 percent in 2006, their share of the actual electorate, 8 percent, has remained stagnant in the last three midterm elections.

Nationally, advocates for immigration reform said Democrats ran from the immigration issue when they should have pushed it.

Janet Murguia, president of National Council of La Raza, called the election a “lost opportunity” for Democrats and said the message from Hispanic voters was “do not take our community for granted.”

About 19 percent of Hispanic voters choosing not to vote said it was because they either did not like the candidates or they did not feel like the issues important to them were being addressed, the Latino Decisions survey found. A quarter of those polled said they were simply too busy. Of those who did not vote, 56 percent said they would have supported the Democratic candidates for Congress. About 20 percent said they would support the GOP candidates.

Robert Martinez, chairman of the Latino Democratic Caucus (founded by the Clark County Democratic Party), said some blame should fall on the local Democratic party, which failed to match the GOP's efforts.

“I think there was a complaceny for a lot of candidates,” he said. “A lot of individuals in various factions of the party that just thought if they showed up that everything would fall into place and Democrats would win again and the status quo would remain … and it just didn’t turnout that way.”

Martinez said 2016 will surely be different with an open presidential race and Harry Reid up for re-election. And both parties will apply lessons they learned about Hispanic voters in 2014.

“The Hispanic vote is not going to be given so easily anymore,” he said. “It’s not going to be given to anybody because of party affiliation. It is what have you done for the community lately and what are you going to do for the community in the future.”

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