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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : Getting Out the Latino Vote

California’s population is at least one-quarter Latino, yet in the November election only 8% of the voters were Latino. In Orange County, the estimate was 5%.

This appallingly low turnout occurred despite the fact that the ballot included an item of special concern to Latinos--Proposition 187, an initiative to cut off most aid to illegal immigrants.

A number of groups long have tried to get more Latinos to register and vote. Now a new organization will take up the cause in Orange County; we hope it does better than the other organizations. The problems that organizers face are daunting. Of an estimated 4,800 Latinos of voting age in one Santa Ana precinct, fewer than 200 voted in the last election.

Now, Jess Araujo, a Santa Ana attorney, has begun Latin American Voters of America to educate potential voters and encourage them to go to the polls. Wisely, he has proclaimed the group bipartisan. That should allow him to avoid charges that LAVA is favoring Democrats or Republicans.

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Araujo and other supporters said that while groups such as the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project have done good work in registering Latinos, the new group hopes to go beyond that and educate those registered in the need to vote. One place to start would be explaining that democracy requires a vote even if a favorite candidate or an issue of interest is not on the ballot. One LAVA supporter said many people stayed home in November because the Latino candidates they favored for the Assembly or for Congress were eliminated in the June primary. That was shortsighted, especially given the presence of Proposition 187 on the ballot.

LAVA organizers said they have approached faculty members at Cal State Fullerton about launching a voter institute that would give students academic credit for registering people to vote. The group also said it planned to track Latino registrants to encourage them to follow through and go to the polls. That could prove valuable in determining who votes and why and in using those lessons to motivate others to take part in democracy.


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