March 1, 2002

Census finds marked upturn in Latino vote

By Bill Hillburg
Los Angeles Daily News

WASHINGTON — The number of Latino voters in California and nationwide surged in the 2000 presidential election, but the turnout percentage among eligible Latinos remained unchanged from 1996, the Census Bureau reported today.

Also, overall voter turnout in California declined in 2000 due to a large percentage of adult noncitizens who were ineligible to cast ballots.

The number of Latino voters rose nationwide from 4.9 million in 1996 to more than 5.9 million in 2000, and increased from 1.3 million to 1.6 million in California. However, turnout among registered Latinos remained at 28 percent nationwide and 25 percent in California.

"Were seeing an ongoing and dramatic change," said Harry Pachon, president of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, a Claremont-based think tank. "The number of Latino voters continues to increase from two major streams — new citizens and young people reaching voting age."

Pachon predicted an increase in California's Latino voter turnout, citing an influx of young voters who were energized by student activism in the 1990s against former Gov. Pete Wilson's stance to bar public services for undocumented immigrants.

The Census Bureau found that California's total white vote declined from 9.4 million in 1996 to 8.1 million in 2000. The number of African-American voters in the state rose from 770,000 to 867,000.

The report also found that the number of Asian and Pacific Islander adults voting nationwide in 2000 rose by 20 percent over 1996 levels. The 2000 total included 848,000 Californians. State totals on Asian and Pacific Islander voters were not compiled by the Census in 1996.

The bureau found that 56 percent of California adults who were citizens cast ballots in 2000. But when noncitizen adults were factored in, the percentage of all adults voting fell to 46.4 percent, compared with 48.4 percent in 1996.

In 2000, nearly 20 percent of California adults were noncitizens, the highest percentage in the nation. Noncitizens made up only 8 percent of total U.S. voting age population.

African-Americans increased their national voting rate to 57 percent, up 4 percent from 1996 levels, while the white voting rate rose 1 percent to 62 percent.

Among citizens of voting age, the District of Columbia boasted the nation's highest turnout in 2000 at 73 percent. California ranked 37th out of 50 states and D.C.

Hawaii had the nation's worst turnout rate at 44 percent.

Amie Jamieson, a Census Bureau demographer and one of the authors of the study, cited a dramatic increase in voting nationwide among registered adults. The turnout increased from an all-time low of 82 percent in 1996 to 86 percent in 2000.

"Most people who are registered to vote actually vote," she said.

(Reprinted from the Los Angeles Daily News, February 27, 2002)

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