A-ha! Gotcha, Latinos! You may be able to get half a million people to risk deportation, skip school and march in the streets of Dallas and 200 or so other cities, but where are the guys who really count, the registered voters? Nowhere, that's where. The Associated Press has looked for them, and in a story released Tuesday reported that cities that held major rallies show "no sign of a historic new voter boom that could sway elections."
Even the Dallas Observer's own Jim Schutze, a man so liberal he makes Lenin look like a robber baron, reported last week on the Observer's blog that Dallas County has not seen a jump in new Latino registrants. Dallas County Elections Director Bruce Sherbet told Schutze that maybe 500 new registrations were directly attributable to the May rally here, and searching records for obvious Latino surnames turned up no odd increase, just the usual number of new voters. Registration-wise, the march was something of a dud, Schutze wrote.
But were the rallies really a dud, or the lighting of a long slow fuse? Lydia Camarillo, vice president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, prefers to think it's the latter. Given her job, you might expect her to think that, but she has her reasons.
The nationwide rallies in May, she notes, were in response to proposed legislation that would have criminalized illegal immigrants, making millions of otherwise law-abiding workers into felons for the crime of being here. The marches "demonstrated that people were upset and angry and willing to step forward and risk deportation," Camarillo says, but that didn't mean that 500,000 were going to show up at Sherbet's office the next day, registration cards in hand. Besides, she says, about one-third of U.S. Latinos are under 18, and others weren't citizens, so they can't register--at least not yet. "Today We March, Tomorrow We Vote," they said, but no one ever put a deadline on tomorrow.
"Tomorrow could be this November. It could be 2008," Camarillo says.
Well, probably not this November, at least not in Texas. With the criminalization proposal pretty much dead, voters need an immediate reason to get het up about registering, such as a major race at the top of the ballot, and an internecine slap fight among Republicans--with Kinky Friedman providing comic relief--probably won't do it.
Buzz could almost hear the exasperation in Camarillo's voice when she returned our call. The National Latino Congress, a gathering of Latino political and community leaders, is taking place this week in Los Angeles, and she took time to answer another "so where are the voters" question from a reporter.
"It's unrealistic for political operatives out there to think that you register the next day," Camarillo says. In the 2004 general election, there were about 9.3 million registered Latinos and 7.5 million voters. In 2008, she anticipates about 10 million voters out of 12 million registered. Those kids who cut class last spring? They're citizens, and they're going to grow up.
Will that really happen, and is it a dramatic enough spike to satisfy the punditry? We'll know in a couple of years. Maybe the marches and their promises were a case of all hat and no cattle, but here's another trite phrase to mull over: Demographics is destiny.