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Election Day: Many Latinos in Colorado choose to skip voting

Politics » Apathy, cynicism and busy schedules mean many will avoid polls in a key swing state.

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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?"

At a glance

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

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Obama’s campaign also has brought back some of its heavyweights from 2008 to try to match or surpass Latino voter turnout back then.

Federico Peña, who again is a national co-chairman for Obama, said he’s been touring the state and making the pitch to disaffected Latinos who don’t appear motivated to go to the polls.

The former Clinton administration Cabinet member and Denver’s first Hispanic mayor said trips to Pueblo and parts of Adams County have helped him see Latino concerns and allowed him to try to connect the dots for residents.

He tells them in speeches and in personal conversations about the president’s power on health-care reform, college-tuition aid and comprehensive immigration reform. Throw in the constant chatter among candidates and pundits about the importance of the Latino vote and Peña says it gives Hispanics skin in the game.

"For the first time in my life, Latinos don’t ask, ‘Why aren’t they paying attention to us?’" Peña said. "Now they realize they are going to make the difference in battleground states."

But that might not happen right away.

José Suárez, a professor of Hispanic Studies at the University of Northern Colorado, said voter apathy among Latinos may stick around until future generations improve their socio-economic status.

"It’s going to take at least a generation or two," he said. "As they climb up, I think you’ll see less apathy and greater participation."

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For Obama to win Colorado and its nine electoral votes this year, Peña said he’ll need a performance similar to 2008 — when the president won the Latino vote 61 percent to 38 percent in the state, according to exit survey results from the William C. Velasquez Institute. Obama eventually won Colorado by nine points overall.

In that same Velasquez survey, Latinos cast 13 percent of the total votes. Peña said the election will again come down to turnout, and he’s got an ambitious goal.

"If we just register 5 percent more, we’ll be fine," he said.

No time for politics » Jaime Portillo would likely vote for Obama, but with a job, three kids and another on the way, he said he doesn’t have time to follow politics.

The 33-year-old was coming out of a Spanish-language Mass at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Lafayette after hearing a pitch by Salvador Luna and Carmen Medrano about the value of registering and casting a ballot.

"I know voting makes a difference, but I never really paid attention to it," Portillo said. "I know it’s important, and I’ve been meaning to get to it."

But driving delivery trucks 50 hours a week doesn’t leave him much time to consume news or information. And he said when he’s home, that’s time spent with his wife and children.

He said he would try to register but with a new child coming and work not showing any signs of slowing down, he admitted it was unlikely he’d cast a ballot in November.

"I have to support my family first," he said.

Luna, who is working with Medrano’s non-profit to register 8,000 Latinos in Arapahoe, Adams, Boulder, Denver and portions of Jefferson County before Election Day, said sometimes it’s easier to get people interested in local and state-level races.

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