May 12, 2000


Latinos Critical in the Presidential Election

By Jerome DeHerrera

Voter registration drives to sign up Latinos for the critical November elections will start soon, and both political parties will focus on several key states with important concentrations of Hispanics. The race for President is especially close in Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Michigan, Missouri, Colorado, New Mexico, Washington and Oregon.

In these states, strategists for both parties believe that the Hispanic vote will be critical to winning the electoral votes of those states. Under the electoral vote system, each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia get a certain number of electors based on the size of a state's population. There are a total of 538 electoral votes as established by the Constitution.

It takes 270 electoral votes to win an election, and the states being targeted by the campaign cast 142 electoral votes. Enough Latinos live in these states to make a real difference.

Across the country new Latino communities are emerging in the states considered the most crucial. Emerging Hispanic communities include places like Cleveland, Milwaukee, Chicago, Philadelphia, Elizabeth, N.J., Detroit, Kansas City, Seattle and Portland to name just a few.

In many of these states, the Latino vote will prove decisive. Anyone who does not think the Latino vote is important should look back to 1960, when the Hispanic vote in Texas and Illinois proved crucial to the election of John F. Kennedy.

In that race, the Viva Kennedy! organizations led by a fiery young Mexican-American named Albert Peña helped put Kennedy barely over the top in Texas and moved the state's mostly Catholic Latino vote into the Kennedy corner. In Illinois, the Hispanic vote was rallied by the father of the current mayor, Richard Daley, and Kennedy barely won Illinois, too.

If Illinois and Texas had voted for Nixon, Kennedy would have lost.

Forty years later, the most recent polls show that the upcoming contest between Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George Bush will be the closest since Kennedy challenged then-Vice President Richard Nixon.

So that means that every vote is important, and both parties are gearing up to make sure that their message gets out to the average Hispanic voter.

But before a voter can vote, he or she must make sure that they have signed up to vote. To be eligible to vote, a potential registrant must be older than 18 at the time of the election and must be a citizen of the United States.

Many states now make it easier than ever to register to vote. Any Latino who is eligible to vote and who does not vote cannot blame anyone other than himself or herself for not voting if his or her candidate does not win.

The vote for president is not the only vote that we will cast in November. Control of the Congress, which has as much power as the President, will be decided also. Important programs and issues, like education, Medicare, the rights of patients, Social Security, immigration and civil rights, will be decided by the new Congress.

The election is more than about the race for the Presidency. It is about our future.

DeHerrera writes a political column from Washington. Please send your comments to .

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