News Analysis

LOS ANGELES — The National Latino Congreso held here Oct. 5-9 projected an action plan and program to massively increase Latino voter turnout in 2008 and decisively impact the Nov. 8 presidential and congressional elections. The Congreso, convened by 10 major national Latino organizations with over 2,000 participating leaders and activists from across the nation, set a goal of raising the Latino presidential turnout from 7.6 million in 2004 to over 10 million in 2008.

While the Congreso is a nonpartisan effort working on an independent “Latino empowerment agenda,” such a turnout could lead to even greater losses for Republicans next year. Vast majorities of Latinos see the harsh Republican anti-immigrant policies as anti-Latino and favor immediately beginning withdrawal from Iraq, expanding public health care programs and supporting other measures that President Bush and congressional Republicans have blocked.

While 2.6 million more Latino votes would not alone have changed George Bush’s 3.5-million popular vote margin over Democrat John Kerry in 2004, it would have decisively changed the Electoral College vote. In five states with large and growing Latino constituencies where Bush narrowly defeated Kerry, Latinos favored Kerry. These states are Florida with 27 electoral votes, Arizona with 10, Colorado with 9, and New Mexico and Nevada with 5 each. In the Electoral College, 270 votes are needed to win. Bush won with only 286 in 2004. Democratic victories in any three of the five would have changed the result.

At the Congreso, Latino leaders projected that the Latino vote could be decisive in key congressional races in 20 states. New Mexico in particular was singled out as an example with the recently announced retirement of Republican Sen. Pete Domenici.

Republican Rep. Heather Wilson has announced she will run for the open Senate seat. Wilson won re-election to the House in 2006 by the narrowest of margins and Democrats have a chance of winning both the open Senate and House seats in 2008. (See related story below.)

Latinos have been the fastest growing ethnic group in registration and voting since 1980, increasing from 2.4 million registered voters and 2 million votes cast in 1980 to 9.3 million registered and 7.6 million votes cast in 2004. However, the Congreso’s projected growth to 12 million registered voters and 10 million votes in 2008 would mean a qualitatively bigger jump.

Such an increase is possible, the Congreso delegates said in unanimously approving a Voter Empowerment Resolution that points out that there are 7 million Latino eligible unregistered voters, and at least 5 million Latino permanent residents who could become citizens and eligible to register to vote.

The resolution joined with the Southwest Voter Registration Project’s call for “Latino organizations/leaders to coalesce to form a national movement” to reach the 10 million voter turnout goal. Special projects were mapped to focus on immigrants, youth, Latinas, communities and churches in the coming months. Congreso leaders were authorized to call statewide meetings of Latinos and allies to initiate efforts to register and mobilize the Latino electorate starting this November.

A major focus will be pressing states to fulfill provisions of the National Voter Registration Act requiring state public assistance agencies to offer voter registration services to applicants and clients. Stepped up efforts in states like Iowa and North Carolina by public assistance agencies have significantly increased the pace of voter registration among lower income citizens.

The escalating attack on immigrants on federal, state and local levels and in the media led by right-wing Republicans has kept alive the immigrant rights slogan of “Aquí estamos y no nos vamos, hoy marchamos, mañana votamos” (We are here, we will stay, today we march, tomorrow we vote). The issue is a powerful motivator to interest Latinos in rejecting Republicans at the polls. But more will be needed to draw out Latino voters of all generations in record numbers. Development of a Latino empowerment agenda was a key task of the Congreso.

That agenda, spelled out in 98 resolutions, emphasized immigration reform, an immediate end to the occupation of Iraq and bringing all troops home, affordable health care, support of the labor movement, public education reform, affordable housing and good neighbor relations with Latin America and the Caribbean.