Francisco Heredia, Executive Director of Mi Familia Vota, discusses what was done to increase Latino voter turnout in the recent Presidential and State elections.
Jose Cardenas: An historic turnout by Hispanic voters helped President Obama's victory in last week's election. Latinos not only helped him win in key battleground states, but they made up 10% of the electorate for the first time ever. Here in Arizona, election workers continue to go through ballots uncounted on election day. With me to talk about that and the Latino vote in Arizona is Francisco Heredia, executive director for Mi Familia Vota. Welcome back to "Horizonte." We've had you on before to talk about the effort. Just kind of a summary. Are you pleased with how things turned out?
Francisco Heredia: Definitely. I think we will see as far as votes cast, the largest number of Latinos ever voting in an election here in Arizona. We're pleased. There's still a lot of work to be done in the next few years. More Latinos becoming citizens, registering to vote and casting more ballots here in Arizona. But we're satisfied with the results. There's preliminary results there because there's so many uncounted ballots across the state still to be counted.
Jose Cardenas: And where do we stand in that regard with respect to the number of uncounted ballots as of the middle of this week?
Francisco Heredia: Still many uncounted early ballots statewide. Largest share being here in Maricopa county and the question is the provisional ballots, which have to be reviewed manually by election officials and workers. So that will take some time until all the ballots are counted. I think Maricopa county has about 115,000 provisional ballots they still need to count. And it's tens of thousands more across the state.
Jose Cardenas: Based upon what you do know and what you can anticipate, in absolute numbers, roughly how many Latinos voted this election?
Francisco Heredia: We can't be certain yet as far as the numbers because there are so many uncounted ballots and we think that a lot of those uncounted ballots are in Latino precincts and areas. So we're still not sure on the numbers but as far as votes cast, we're predicting over three to 400,000 and to that margin of Latinos voting in this election, which will be the highest ever.
Jose Cardenas: As compared to 2008, which was the previous record, right?
Francisco Heredia: Yes.
Jose Cardenas: And what was that number?
Francisco Heredia: 274 for Latinos. And it's not an exact science how we figure out how we know -- we do Hispanic searches, so around Tucson, 274,000 Latinos participated in 2008, which was the highest to that point and we will surpass that this year.
Jose Cardenas: Now, you made reference to a lot of the provisional ballots being in areas where there are a lot of Latino voters. Are there some lessons to be learned about how we handle the provisional ballots?
Francisco Heredia: Yeah, I think it calls upon a look at our election system and how we can improve upon that and how we can inform and educate our public on the voting process, especially Latinos. I think that's a lesson learned and our work moving forward in informing the public about the process of voting, we received tons of calls on election day and prior to election day on how to vote and how to mail the ballot or, you know, if I have to mail it or take it to the polls. So those little things that we need to definitely inform and educate our public on on the process of voting.
Jose Cardenas: Now, Mi Familia Vota is nonpartisan, is that right?
Francisco Heredia: We're nonpartisan.
Jose Cardenas: So people who express disappointment that certain officials who ran for election were not defeated, for example, the arpaio race, that's not how you measure success because your point is getting the Latino vote out. But taking that point on directly, what's your response to people who say it didn't make a difference because sheriff arpaio still won by a fairly comfortable margin?
Francisco Heredia: It's misguided there. Latinos cannot -- do not have the numbers yet to really propel a certain candidate to win or lose the election. It has to be part of a larger package, a larger group that in order for that candidate to win or lose. So what we look at with the growth that the Latinos have had over the last four years. Since 2008, Latinos here in Arizona have had the most voter registration growth across the country, over 41% more Latinos have registered to vote, an increase on the early voting sign-ups here in Arizona as we see more municipalities and more elections moving to early ballots, we want to make sure Latinos are not left behind. So we see that growth and the growth of turnout throughout the -- since 2008 has increased. So it's about the long term, people want to focus on the short term but we always knew that to build the culture of participation in our community takes a long process, it takes some time to make sure Latinos know about the system and becoming citizens, registering to vote and voting in every election, be it for presidential or the local school board election.
Jose Cardenas: And I do want to talk about the presidential election and some of the other states and the impact of the Latino vote but before I do that, there was a lot of concern pre-election about mistakes in the Spanish language materials here in Arizona. Did that turn out to have any kind of impact?
Francisco Heredia: We didn't see many folks say that was an issue. It is definitely a concern, why those mistakes happened and we take the county for their word that it was an honest mistake but we want to make sure how we move ahead and how we inform our public in the Latino community about the election process. So we want to make sure that we work with the county to ensure that more individuals are aware about the process and, you know, have the right information to cast their ballot.
Jose Cardenas: Now, Mi Familia Vota was active in other states where there's no doubt that the Latino vote influenced the outcome of the election. Nevada would be one of those. What do you say about the overall efforts nationwide?
Francisco Heredia: We're a national organization and in key states like Nevada, Colorado, Florida where we saw the competitiveness of many races, the Senate races and presidential races, whereas the Latino vote did propel President Obama to win those states. In Florida, they took a while to count those ballots but we believe that Latinos were one of the main reasons why President Obama won Florida, including Colorado and Nevada. So our work there with other organizations in those states really propelled we believe President Obama to win re-election. Be that, Latinos cast their ballots for whoever they wanted to represent them, but the majority looking at polls, President Obama won those states by over 60-70%, which provided that margin for him to win those states.
Jose Cardenas: Now, there's an expectation that because of the strong showing by Latino voters, immigration reform is much more likely, not simply because the president may feel an obligation to fulfill promises but also Republicans anxious to court the Latino vote and to prevent further slippage in the demographics are going to want to make sure immigration reform passes.
Francisco Heredia: Definitely. Latinos care about every issue, every voter cares about. Jobs, the economy, education, but immigration has been one of the main issues that Latinos have said they want to bring solutions to that issue. And we're seeing, you know, some space being created by both Republicans and democrats right now on the immigration issue and forming a comprehensive immigration reform package. For us, we will work hard. We will continue our work and engaging our community to get active and push for a comprehensive immigration reform package in every state that we're in so that we solve this issue that is hurting our community, dividing our community, so we're seeing that conversation being had. Jeff Blake said he's open, the candidate here that ran for U.S. Senate, and the presumptive winner for the U.S. Senate race, said he's open for comprehensive immigration. So we're hearing that all across the board. So in order for us to really pass immigration reform, we need bipartisan support. So it looks like there's some space being created right now for that.
Jose Cardenas: We're almost out of time but let's jump ahead four years from now when you won't have Barack Obama at the head of the ticket. Presumably immigration reform will not be the hot issue that it is right now. Do you expect the numbers of Latinos participating to be higher?
Francisco Heredia: Yes and we expect the trends that we see as far as the growth, more Latinos are going to be 18 and older and becoming registered voters, more Latinos are becoming citizens and by 2016, you know, projections put it in the 2025 that Arizona will be a competitive state. We believe 2016 because of Latino growth in the electorate, Arizona will be a competitive state like Nevada, Colorado and Florida, that's being talked about in the presidential races.
Jose Cardenas: Well, director of Mi Familia Vota, thanks for joining us on "Horizonte."
Francisco Heredia: Thank you for the opportunity.
Francisco Heredia:Executive Director, Mi Familia Vota;