Despite national decline, Latino voter registration increases in Hempstead
Latinos in Hempstead are taking full advantage of their right to vote.
According to The New York Times, the number of Latinos in the country exercising their vote has decreased because many are frustrated with current immigration laws under the Obama administration. Two-thirds of the nearly two million deportation cases since President Barack Obama took office involve people who had committed minor infractions or have no criminal record at all.
In particular, voter registration among Latinos has decreased in most states in midterm election years, but Latinos in the Town of Hempstead are defying the national trend and signing up to vote.
“I think Nassau, especially Hempstead, is not falling in that national trend,” said Steve McFarland, organizer of the Long Island Civic Engagement Table (LICET), a coalition of organizations working to intensify civic involvement in working-class communities of color on Long Island. “All immigrants and their families, whether they are Irish, Italian, or Hispanic, are frustrated at where the immigration reform is right now, but that’s more of a reason for people to engage locally.”
Daniel Altschuler, the coordinator of the LICET, said the Latino population in Nassau County rose 49 percent since 2000, and minorities make up 25 percent of the county’s registered voters.
Last year, the LICET helped to persuade 2,000 people in Nassau County to vote.
“We’re able to mobilize more folks to make sure that our elected officials in Hempstead have the interests of Latinos at heart,” said McFarland.
Beyond the immigration issue
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, over 44 percent of Hempstead residents identify themselves as Latino compared to 17.6 percent in New York State. Eligible Latino voters in Hempstead are concerned with more than immigration reform. Many are raising families, and have a vested interest in Hempstead’s education system. The absence of Latino school board members is motivation for them to make their vote count.
The Town of Hempstead is home to nearly 800,000 residents spread among 22 villages, including the Village of Hempstead, where census data show Latinos make up about 44 percent of the population.
“Almost 75 percent of the children in the school system are [Latino] students in the Village of Hempstead,” said Livio Rosario, a former Village of Hempstead trustee. “Do you know how many elected school board members are Latino out of the five positions? Not one. Never has been.”
“The broken immigration system is also a daily source of fear, anxiety, and struggle for people, but so is the quality of education, whether they can find good jobs, and affordable housing in their community,” McFarland added.
He said Latinos are becoming the “engine of growth” in Hempstead and are the “future of Nassau County.”
Encouraging civic engagement
According to a Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project, a non-partisan fact center that informs the public about the trends shaping America, Latino voter involvement in midterm elections has heightened over the last decade with more than 6.6 million Latinos voting in 2010 compared to 2.9 million in 1990.
“It’s not a difference between registration or voting. It’s a difference between the millions of people who are turning out and the number that could turn out,” said Steven Carbó, director of Voting Rights and Democracy Initiative at the Center for Popular Democracy, a national organization that promotes opportunity and democracy.
Nationally, the number of Latinos eligible to vote grew from 19.5 million to 23.3 million in 2012.
“The interesting thing here is that there’s about 800 young Latinos that turn 18 every year, and another 800,000 are U.S. born, so as we move into the coming two decades that number of 800,000 a year is only going to get bigger,” said Mark Lopez, director of Hispanic Research at Pew Research Center. “But it only goes to show you how much youth is playing a role in shaping Hispanic voter turnout and election outcomes.”
The village of Hempstead works to make sure Latinos are continually encouraged to vote.
“When there is an election going on, people have campaigns and there are a lot of Spanish speakers out there trying to have our community come out and vote, because that’s the right as a citizen,” said Patricia Perez, the Hempstead village clerk. “We have people campaigning in Spanish and English trying to get people to come out there and vote.”
The goal is to avoid following in the footsteps of the national trend.
“We can’t change those [registration trends] all by ourselves here in Hempstead,” said McFarland. “But we’re going to do a lot of work to change them when it comes to our local state races, assembly races, and congressional races.”