Denver » Joie Gutierrez is Mitt Romney’s problem. Not far up the highway, Barack Obama’s problem is named Jaime Portillo.
Both are eligible voters. Neither plans to exercise their right in November. And no amount of cajoling, convincing or campaigning will change that fact. Instead, their votes will be among thousands left on the table come Election Day in Colorado. That they are Latino is perhaps less surprising.
Swinging the vote: About this series
The Salt Lake Tribune, in partnership with the Institute for Justice and Journalism at the University of Oklahoma, explored the Latino vote in two Western battleground states in this year’s presidential election. In this first part, the focus is on Latinos in Colorado not participating in politics. In part two, The Tribune explores the home foreclosure crisis and its potential impact on the Latino vote in Washoe County — a swing county in the swing state of Nevada. Both neighboring states of Utah are considered critical to victory by the Obama and Romney campaigns, and both acknowledge the importance of the Latino vote.
Editor’s Note » Podrá encontrar este artículo traducido al español en nuestra página de Internet
According to U.S. Census data, there are about 664,000 Latino adults living in Colorado and a survey released this year by the group Latino Decisions shows there were 340,798 registered Hispanic voters in the state. That means 49 percent of Hispanics in the Centennial State aren’t registered to vote. The reasons are varied — apathy, belief that a vote doesn’t matter, lack of time or simple dissatisfaction with the two candidates.
But campaigns for Obama and Romney are reaching out to that demographic through canvassing, phone banks and a blitz of bilingual advertising on television and radio.
Gutierrez doesn’t care. She’s got other things on her mind.
‘I don’t choose’ » The 28-year-old mother of five is trying to get her 11-year-old son to pose for a photo in his baseball uniform at Rude Park, which is just west of downtown in a Latino-heavy neighborhood.
At the same time she’s juggling a camera and drink while coaxing the boy to smile on a hot Saturday morning, her youngest, 3-year-old Donovan, is driving her crazy as he keeps dropping his pants and standing there with exposed diapers and a goofy grin.
Gutierrez said even though she registered to vote at 18 ("My dad made me"), she has never cast a single ballot. She said politicians — especially at the presidential level — are disconnected from her daily life.
"I feel like they’re going to do what they’re going to do, regardless of my choice," she said. "So, I don’t choose."
If she had to vote, she said she’d vote for Romney. She likes his values. But that voteisn’t going to happen.
Raymond Rodriguez, who coaches the youth baseball teams at the park, said it’s a common refrain in the Latino community. He said sometimes it’s related to the person’s background — coming from countries where elections aren’t transparent, and people believe the winner is pre-determined.
"They don’t have a lot of confidence in voting," Rodriguez said. "They can often feel their vote doesn’t count."
According to a 2011 Pew Hispanic Center survey, that was the answer given by 14.9 percent of Latinos asked why they don’t participate in elections. It was second only to the 25.8 percent who said they were too busy or had scheduling conflicts that kept them from voting.
Joe Perez has heard all of the excuses before. So he’s on a mission to bring them into the process.
Door to door » On a quiet Sunday afternoon in Greeley — a largely agricultural community in northeastern Colorado — Perez strides up to house after house with a clipboard in hand and a smile beneath a bushy mustache.
He’s working with the Obama campaign and spends hours training people to knock on doors and register people. Perez has been at it for months, working out of his garage and from an Obama office across from the University of Northern Colorado campus and in a strip mall, which includes a tattoo shop and a Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant.
Perez said the trick is persistence.
"It can take five knocks," he said. "So we keep going back."
He has concerns, though, about November. After the 2010 census data came out, Weld County — where Greeley is — decided not to offer ballots in Spanish as it had in 2008 under the Voting Rights Act. That’s because the Latino population decreased under a formula used under the law to determine if voting needs to be accommodated in alternative languages.
That could affect turnout, Perez said.
"If the ballot were in Spanish, it would be a lot easier for some," Perez said. "If we say ‘to vote is American,’ why would you make it more difficult for someone?"Next Page >
Copyright 2013 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.