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Advocates pushing early ballots to boost Latino votes

PHOENIX — Groups out to boost voting by Latinos in Arizona are combining classic get-out-the-vote tactics with a push for casting early ballots.

“We are definitely stressing people to register for the early ballot because that increases their chances of coming out,” said Dulce Matuz, president of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, a youth-led group that fights for educational and immigrant rights.

It’s part of larger efforts that groups say have registered the most Latinos voters ever in Arizona. Leaders say they hope to tap into dissatisfaction over Arizona’s restrictive laws on illegal immigration.

With Arizona’s registration deadline having passed Tuesday, the next step in addressing traditionally low voter turnout among Latinos, leaders said, is getting people to cast ballots.

That’s where early voting comes in.

Groups are touting the convenience of mail-in ballots, including not having to go to polling places and vote around work schedules.

“They encounter less obstacles to actually exercise that right to vote,” Matuz said.

Ignacio Menchaca, a 66-year-old retired truck driver who lives in Phoenix, signed up to vote Tuesday at a registration drive run by the Adios Arpaio campaign, a coalition of two Latino advocacy groups that reported registering over 30,000 new Latino voters. He said he plans to vote early by mail because it’s easier.

“That way I can take my time and send it on time, you know,” Menchaca said.

Joe Garcia, director of the Latino Public Policy Center at Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy, said there’s been a “big push” from Latino advocacy groups for mail-in ballots that are “a surefire way to cast a ballot regardless of location, vocation or situation come Election Day.”

Mi Familia Vota, a national nonpartisan, nonprofit group that advocates for Latinos, has over 100 volunteers in Maricopa, Pinal and Pima counties working to get Latinos on early voting lists and call them to make sure they send in their early ballots, said Francisco Heredia, the group’s state director.

For those who don’t cast early ballots, Heredia said the group plans to coordinate free taxi rides on Election Day for those who have transportation troubles.

“Making sure they have information, making sure they know where to vote and pushing them to vote, either on early ballots or on election day,” he said.

Garcia, of the Morrison Institute, said Latino voter turnout has been low historically for many reasons.

“Everything from lack of transportation, overriding family commitments and work restrictions,” Garcia said. “A large percentage of Latinos are blue-collar workers whose long hours and long distances from polling places often prevented them from voting on a Tuesday.”

Advocacy group leaders said they were able to register thousands of new Latino voters mainly because of unhappiness with Arizona’s anti-immigration laws.

“Our community is tired of being attacked, and we want leaders that represent our values and our community,” said Tomas Robles, deputy field director for Promise Arizona in Action, one of the groups involved in the Adios Arpaio campaign.

Mi Familia Vota estimated a 41 percent increase in registered Latino voters in Arizona, or about 169,000 voters, according to Heredia, the group’s state director. While significant, he said the growth isn’t enough to affect election outcomes yet.

“It indicates a growth for the future that candidates and parties will have to take into account when conducting their outreach,” Heredia said.

Garcia said a number of factors, including the passage of SB 1070 and the first-ever Hispanic candidate for U.S. Senate in Arizona, Richard Carmona, could energize Latinos to vote in higher numbers.

“I think that this election there will be a difference in Latino votes,” he said.

What’s undeniable, Garcia said, is the power Arizona’s Latino voters will have in future elections. Due to large numbers of Latino youths coming of age in the state, Latinos will make up 25 percent of Arizona’s electorate by 2025, up from 15 percent in 2010, according to a recent report by the Morrison Institute.

“All future elections if you don’t get the Latino vote, you don’t win,” Garcia said.

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