- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 5, 2006

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Immigration protests that drew hundreds of thousands of flag-waving demonstrators to the nation’s streets in the spring promised a potent political legacy — a surge of new Hispanic voters.

“Today we march, tomorrow we vote,” they proclaimed.

But an Associated Press review of voter registration figures from Chicago, Denver, Houston, Atlanta and other major urban areas that had large rallies found no sign of a new voter boom that could sway elections. There was a rise in Los Angeles, where 500,000 protested in March, but it was more of a trickle than a torrent.

Protest organizers — principally unions, Hispanic advocacy groups and the Catholic Church — acknowledge it has been hard to translate street activism into voting clout, though they insist they can reach their goal of 1 million new voters by 2008.

“I was anticipating a huge jump in registration. I didn’t see it,” said Jess Cervantes, a veteran California political operative whose company analyzes Hispanic voting trends. “When you have an emotional response, it takes time to evolve.”

It’s impossible to count exactly how many new registrants were inspired by the demonstrations because counties typically don’t ask for race or ethnicity.

New registrations were up this year compared with last year, but they were well below the numbers in 2004, and the increase is no surprise at a time when Democrats and Republicans are struggling for control of Congress. Even without that factor, the numbers don’t indicate the watershed awakening advocates had envisioned.

Hispanic voters are a pivotal voting bloc, especially with their numbers projected to continually grow. But, they have long voted in numbers far below their share of the population, in part because many are younger than 18 or not U.S. citizens. A study by the Pew Hispanic Center found that while Hispanics accounted for half the nation’s population growth between the 2000 and 2004 elections, they represented only one-tenth of the increase in votes cast.

The lack of political experience helps explain why the flow of new registrations has been halting. Some activists acknowledge that their groups have yet to master the nuances of voter registration drives — typically a face-to-face task more complex than mobilizing a march. Others complain that political parties with the most to gain haven’t financed registration efforts.

“Until the money is spent, ‘Today we march, tomorrow we vote’ will always just be a slogan,” said Nativo Lopez, president of the California-based Mexican-American Political Association. “A million new registrations would cost about $10 million. Is anybody willing to pay that? I haven’t seen it.”

The AP reviewed new registration numbers over several years in metropolitan areas that include Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose, Calif.; Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz.; Dallas and Houston; Chicago; Atlanta; Denver; and Jacksonville and St. Petersburg, Fla. The time frames included January-through-July periods dating to 2004 and periods before statewide elections, when registration efforts are most intense.

The data provide a wide-angle look at new registrations, but do have limitations. Any significant shift in registrations overall would stand out, but voters are not specifically identified by race or ethnicity. As a result, an increase in new registrations in Los Angeles County in the 100 days before this June’s primary compared with the months before two prior statewide elections cannot be attributed exclusively to new Hispanic voters, despite extensive registration efforts here.

Gains in new registrations were highest in 2004, when political parties spent lavishly to enroll new voters ahead of the presidential election. New registrations increased in virtually every city from 2005 to 2006 — but that would be expected because of congressional primaries and elections. The 2006 numbers were below the 2004 numbers in every city.

In Chicago and surrounding Cook County, registrations in the first seven months this year jumped about a third over 2005 but were far below the same period in 2004.

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