When most people think of Arkansas, they don't automatically blurt out the word "Latino," the way some may when thinking of historic Hispanic states such as California, Texas, and Florida. But let's examine the Razorback State where incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Pryor is facing a formidable challenge from Republican U.S. Congressman Tom Cotton. It is one of a dozen states concentrated in the Midwest and Southeast that experienced triple digit Latino growth between 2000 and 2010. This fact is significant because controlling for unauthorized immigrants, legal residents, and children under the voting age of 18, thousands of new eligible voters could impact the results of one of the most competitive midterm races--one that could affect the U.S. Senate's balance of power.
Following the methodology I established in the first post in this series My Latino Midterm Election: North Carolina, I examine local findings after deep dives into the U.S. Census numbers, as well as examining local data. After thorough searches, however, I am surprised at the paucity of local research on the federal data. Why? It is only by drilling down that local governments, universities, and community groups are able to get a more accurate snapshot to better serve their constituencies, for example, in the areas of education and economic development.
The most thorough report is by the University of Arkansas' Division of Agriculture. A key point will blow your mind:
"Between 1990 and 2006, the Hispanic population in the state has increased by over 600 percent. In the Ozark District, the percentage increase is even more dramatic at over 1,000 percent."
It's important to put these numbers into perspective, examining data carefully and its corresponding ranges. If a state has 1 Latino and in one decade, one more Hispanic is counted, then the population doubled but totals only 2 Latinos. In the case of the Arkansas data, the increase is approximately 121,000 more Hispanics. Although dwarfed by the size of the national Hispanic population, pollsters, pundits, and political parties should not balk at this number. The Pryor-Cotton race is close and as is the case with tight contests, every vote counts and not just that of conservative Democrats whose numbers dropped since 2008 while the number of conservative Republicans has increased.
At 6.9% of the state population, Latino immigrants are pulling more than their weight, contributing significantly to the local economy because of two important factors: population flight from towns and a native Arkansas population that is aging--both these at accelerated rates. Yet, in the Razorback State, as is the case nationwide, Hispanics' demographic and economic power isn't matched by this group's civic participation and political power. White and black eligible voters outnumber Hispanic eligible voters, respectively 34 to 1 and 6 to 1.
Still, a closer examination reveals significant opportunities to bring these voters into the system.
- Although only 28% of Latinos are eligible to vote, that number works out to approximately 51,000 Hispanic eligible voters--even a fraction of this figure voting could determine the outcome of an election
- In 2011, 58%--or a majority of Hispanics in Arkansas--are U.S. born
- Among eligibles, 30% are naturalized U.S. citizens. These last facts mean the important voting requirement of U.S. citizenship is cleared.
Why are these potential voters not being engaged? Answers range from the Republican party spurning and antagonizing these groups. Some in the Latino leadership are accusing the White House of not engaging the Hispanic congressional caucus and grassroots groups. Within the grassroots, some have asked voters not to cast ballots with the intention of hurting Democrats as punishment for the White House stalling on immigration executive action. I have even heard pathetic excuses whining that these voters aren't being courted. Well honey, I've never waited for an opportunity to come to me. I've had to seize or create one.
To mark Hispanic Heritage Month which runs before the midterms from September 15 to October 15, a host of Latino organizations are partnering to push voter registration. Arkansas law states that voters must register at least 30 days prior to an election which means that if you didn't by now, you can't vote in the November midterms. But you can participate in other ways:
- help a senior or disabled person get to her polling station
- offer to babysit so that a parent can cast his vote
- volunteer for a candidate or issue that may have a measure on the ballot at phone banks or knocking on doors
- register so that you can participate in the next election
Click here for the website of the Arkansas Secretary of State for voter registration information and requirements, including valid voter identification.
Republican, Democratic, or Latino leadership fails, voters who are waiting for their Political Superman are going to cool their collective heels for a long time. However, if you're an eligible voter, look no further than yourself.
To learn more about how the Hispanic demographic growth and voter registration are playing out in close midterm races, click here to read the original series My Latino Midterm Election.