Energized by the Trump Administration’s treatment of hurricane devastated Puerto Rico and Hispanic immigrants in general, Latino voters could impact several high-profile elections on November 6th. In Connecticut, there is evidence, mostly anecdotal, that Hispanic voter registration has continued to rise, bolstered by hurricane displaced Puerto Ricans, and the state and nonprofit organizations have been targeting increased Hispanic voter registration and participation.
However, with the campaign season having revved up in September, Hispanic political leaders are worried and unsure if their communities are tuned into the current political scene, and are ready to turn out at the polls in significant numbers.
“My sense is that Latinos are not engaged,” said Jason Ortiz, who heads the National Puerto Rican Agenda of Connecticut, a statewide alliance of political activists. “Lots of potential but zero investment in organizing,” added Ortiz who is managing a Democratic state Senate campaign in the New London area.
Similarly, Carmelo Rodriguez, a longtime Republican activist who also heads the non-partisan Latino Coalition in New Britain, said he did not sense more Latinos are interested in voting this November and expressed concern about the relationship between the major parties and the Latino community.
Among the factors inhibiting Hispanic interest in Connecticut politics was that neither Democrats or Republicans had a Hispanic prominent on their tickets and neither party appeared to be allocating substantial campaign funds toward hiring Hispanic staff and utilizing Spanish language media and campaign materials.
“They are not putting their money where their mouth is,” according to one Hispanic Democrat. Republican Carmelo Rodriguez echoed this observation: “It is very quiet in the Latino media, TV and radio from these two parties.”
In August, when CTlatinonews.com contacted the campaigns of the two leading candidates for governor, Democrat Ned Lamont and Republican Bob Stefanowski, as well as U.S. Senate incumbent Christopher Murphy, regarding their Latino outreach efforts and staffing, their representatives said the information would be forthcoming. To date, we have not received any information.
Carmelo Rodriguez, as well as Hispanics active from both parties, attributed the lack of Hispanic excitement about the current campaigns to the continual absence of Latinos at the top of both tickets.
This year, Eva Bermudez Zimmerman, who is of Puerto Rican descent, ran for the Democratic lieutenant governor slot, and Art Linares, whose background is Cuban, sought the Republican state treasurer nomination, but were passed over in the party endorsements and primaries in favor of candidates with closer links to party leaders.
“Both parties have lost candidates that were known and had the chance to make a difference in this state.” Rodriguez said. “Sadly, my opinion at this time is that both parties want the Latino vote but are refusing to support candidates when they campaign,” he said, adding “with half a million Latinos in Connecticut, we do not have representation in higher levels (governor, lieutenant governor, secretary, treasurer).”
A significant obstacle, in terms of quantifying Latino voter registration and turnout is that there are actually few relevant statistics regarding Latinos who turn out to vote. Organizations like the CT Hispanic Democratic Caucus and the Puerto Rican Agenda have only anecdotal evidence of Latino voter turnout.
Lourdes Montalvo, Director of Constituent Services and Community Outreach, said the Secretary of the State’s office cannot track registrations by race, nationality, or ethnic group. However, she added, “We do know from anecdotal evidence that Latino voter registration has greatly increased in the past two years.”
Generally it is known, that a low turnout among the Hispanic clusters in cities such as New Haven, Bridgeport and Hartford might typically help the Republican statewide ticket.
Rodriguez also said his party would have benefited had New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart been successful in gaining the nomination for lieutenant governor. “Erin was the only candidate in the Republican Party during the primary that could have reached the inner city, which the party has failed to do,” he said, adding, “She has the ability to enter the inner cities and connect with the people on both sides.”
Norma Rodriguez, who chairs the Connecticut Hispanic Democratic Caucus, expressed optimism that Hispanic Democrats could win two Senate seats for the first time, but also expressed a need for statewide candidates to do a better job of reaching out to the Spanish-speaking communities.
“With the world evolving,” she said, “candidates need to use all available media, which includes Spanish language television, radio and publications. More has to be done,” the New Haven activist said, than just “talk about why we don’t come out to vote.”
Rodriguez and other political leaders also observed that the governor candidates are spending “an amazing amount of money on TV ads” but it also is important to “put feet on the ground” with people who can communicate with Hispanic communities.
Another potential problem is a sense among the candidates and even by Latinos that Democrats automatically get their votes. “If we continue to go with this norm, we will be ignored,” said Emilio Estrella, who is secretary of the CT Hispanic Democratic Caucus.
Moreover, Estrella, a recent college graduate, noted there has to be a better connect with the younger generation. “We are not necessarily a sure thing,” he said citing the prominence of young Latino Republicans such as Linares and Florida Senator Marco Rubio.
The generating of a “blue wave” Democrats envision nationally could put Democrats in the U.S. Congress majority so as to apply a brake to Trump policies may be less critical in Connecticut. The U.S. Senate seat and five House of Representative slots at state Nov. 6 are already held by Democrats. According to Cook Political Report, a closely watched nonpartisan newsletter, all these contests currently are firmly in control of the Democrats with the only exception being the Fifth Congressional District where the incumbent Rep. Elizabeth Esty is not running. Still, in this latter contest, Cook has the contest leaning to the Democrat.
Nationally, the Pew Research Center, which regularly looks at trends related to the nation’s growing Latino population, last looked at Latino voter eligibly in 2012 and 2016. It found in 2012 that there were some 482,000 Hispanics in Connecticut who comprised 13 percent of the total population, but only 9 of the state’s eligible voters. Moreover, less than half of the Hispanics, about 239,000, were eligible voters. By contrast, more than three-quarters (78 percent) of the state’s white population was eligible to vote.
Four years later, Pew reported that the Latino population had grown to about 540,000 or 15 percent of Connecticut’s total population, and that 51.8 percent were eligible to vote and as a group had grown to 10.8 percent of eligible.
How many Latinos were actually voting was not clear, but turnout in the major cities where most lived — Bridgeport, New Haven, Hartford and Waterbury — was 16 to 22 points lower than the state average with only Bridgeport and Waterbury posting upticks from 2012.
On the plus side, there are efforts under way to increase Hispanic voter eligibility. Connecticut Secretary of State’s office, which oversees elections, has initiatives to register all potential voters, including Latinos. Specifically, this includes enrolling people who have settled in Connecticut after being displaced by Hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017, according to Montalvo.
Montalvo said the state has made it easier for all potential voters to register by implementing Election Day Registration, Online Voter Registration, and Automatic Voter Registration via the DMV. “We also send staff to large events and parades in order to register voters where they are,” she said.
“Additionally, our office has partnered with community organizations to both register voters at events and to train members to register voters on their own.” Montalvo said.
“All of these efforts have combined to greatly increase voter registration in the last two years, particularly among potential voters of Latino heritage,” she added.
In the greater Hartford area, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving has distributed $116,565 in grants to area nonprofits for a nonpartisan Get Out The Vote initiative. The focus of this project is to increase engagement among “some of the most underserved groups (including young adults, Latinos and Blacks and people living in high poverty neighborhoods)” who are among the least likely to participate in federal, state and local elections.
Among the agencies that the Hartford Foundation awarded its competitive grants are the Center for Latino Progress, which will work in partnership with the Hartford Votes Coalition and Everyday Democracy to engage Latino youth; the San Juan Center, focusing on Latino residents in Hartford’s north and south ends; and Latino Community Services, Inc. is targeting Latinos, African Americans, young adults (18-24), seniors, low-income individuals, Spanish speaking only persons and female-headed households.
The Center for Latino Progress and its allies are in the process of developing a year-long program aimed at generating 200 new voters among non-white mostly Hispanic youths. Some activities are planned in October, but the project will really get going in November, said one of its organizers.
In Connecticut, the deadline to register to vote prior to Election Day is October 30 (postmarked by October 30 for a mail-in registration; by close of business on October 30 at the DMV; by close of business on October 30 in person at each town’s registrars of voters’ office; or by 11:59 p.m. on October 30 on the Online Voter Registration System (http://myvote.ct.gov/register). If a potential voter becomes eligible to vote after October 30 (turns 18, moves to town, becomes a citizen, etc.), that citizen can register to vote in person at their local registrar of voters’ office through 5 p.m. on November 5.
Connecticut also supports Election Day registration, so eligible voters can register on Election Day in the designated registration location in each town.