- The Washington Times - Monday, June 12, 2006

Local Hispanic elected officials yesterday began a regional voter-registration campaign with the hope of gaining at least 500,000 new Hispanic voters by Election Day.

“We’ve got to educate our community overall on what are the nuances of voting,” said J. Walter Tejada, an Arlington County Board member and immigration advocate. “It’s important people know who, where and by when they can vote.”

Volunteers will help Hispanic U.S. citizens register during workshops at festivals and at health clinics, schools and other places.

Local leaders yesterday urged Hispanics to visit www.yamarchamosahoravotamos.org (“We marched, now we vote”) which explains voting requirements, deadlines and election dates.

They also debuted a television commercial that includes Hispanic celebrities such as Gloria Estefan, Antonio Banderas and Eva Longoria encouraging participation in elections.

Hispanics tend to vote in smaller numbers than other ethnic groups because a large percentage are either under 18 or are not citizens, according to the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute at the University of Southern California.

About 7.5 million Hispanics — or 19 in every 100 — voted in 2004, according to the institute.

The Pew Hispanic Center reported that the 2004 Hispanic voting rate of 18 percent trailed that of whites (51 percent) and blacks (39 percent). Despite a nearly 2 percent increase in population, the percentage of Hispanic votes cast in November 2002 barely crept from 5.5 percent to 6 percent in November 2004.

“We do not make voter registration and voter participation an easy task for American citizens,” said Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez, Montgomery County Democrat. “For Latinos, it’s especially difficult, not only because information isn’t available in Spanish, but we don’t have that tradition in many of our cultures to participate.”

Local leaders hope the debate on immigration reform will turn the trend around, especially among Hispanic youth.

“We are going to show in November that we are a strong political force,” said Gustavo Velazquez, executive director of the D.C. Office on Latino Affairs.

Leaders yesterday said they are targeting citizens, not illegal aliens.

Until recently, illegal aliens were allowed to vote in Maryland because a 1993 “motor-voter” law allowed residents to register to vote at the same time that they got their driver’s licenses.

A Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration spokesman said foreign-born persons, who go through a separate driver’s license registration process, no longer are given the option of registering to vote.

However, six Maryland municipalities — Chevy Chase, Takoma Park, Garrett Park, Barnesville, Martin’s Additions and Somerset — allow noncitizens to vote in local elections.

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