By Keith Griffin
Latino voter registration is up in Connecticut, but Latino voter participation needs to improve, according to the Connecticut Secretary of the State’s office. There are more than 176,000 registered voters of Hispanic origin in Connecticut – representing nearly 9 percent of all registered voters in the state but an earlier study by the office indicates while 46 percent of Hispanic citizens in Connecticut are registered to vote, still only about half or 23 percent are actually casting ballots.
Scott McLean, a political science professor at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, said there are many reasons Latino voter turnout is not what it should be – but it has nothing to do with being Latino. Rather, it’s a question of age. “Age has a lot to do with it,” McLean said. There was a high turnout of young Latino voters in 2008 who were supporting Barack Obama, who received 80 percent of the young Latino vote. New Latino voter registration, nationwide in 2008, tilted toward younger Latinos, McLean said.
The problem is those younger voters don’t turn out to the polls like older voters do. “They’re more mobile, more transient,” McLean explained. “They’re not in the habit of voting. It’s a matter of age.” Plus, he added, many young Latinos may not have grown up seeing their parents voting. “They didn’t give their children the experience of seeing them vote every November.”
Connecticut’s Secretary of the State Denise Merrill however pointed to cultural differences as a possible reason why not all Latino voters turn out to vote after they register saying, “I don’t know what that’s about. In Puerto Rico and Latin American countries voting is more of a holiday with people gathering for parties and then going to vote. That may contribute to some of it,” she said
While in the first eight months of 2012, more than 7,500 new Hispanic voters register in Connecticut, Merrill says it’s going to be a combination of community leadership and local candidates to drive increased voter participation. Merrill added. “It’s a real effort. Our system relies on candidates to get out the vote out. Why it is so difficult we don’t know. In the African American community they get a lot of inspiration for voting from their churches. There may not be the same civic commitment from Hispanic churches.”
One movement that could make a difference in Latino voter participation, Merrill said, are programs like Hartford VOTA/Hartford Votes and New Haven Votes. They are zeroing in on making sure people register and then get out and vote.
Bridgeport has the largest Latino voter population in the state at 25,519. Hartford is second at 24,911 and Waterbury is third at 15,072 followed by New Haven at 12,541 and New Britain at 10,139. Merrill’s office determined Latino registration numbers from registration data in the Connecticut Centralized Voter Registration System combined with Spanish surname information from the U.S. Census bureau.
Av Harris, the Secretary of State’s communications director, said typical turnout in Connecticut for president elections is 75 to 80 percent of registered voters. (In 2008, turnout was 67.2 percent.) Merrill’s office, he said, recognizes there is a problem with low Latino voter turnout. It has a campaign planned to reach those voters through paid commercials and public service announcements.
In the 2010 statewide elections, according to a 2011 CT Civic Health Index released by Merrill’s office, only 22.7 percent of Latinos in Connecticut voted while 50.7 percent of whites did and 36.7 percent of Blacks. (Asians are at about the same level of Latinos.)
By Keith Griffin