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Latino vote key to win 2012 election

Although both political parties in the state continue to target Latino voters as a crucial demographic for November’s presidential election, a recent study shows many eligible Latinos still haven’t registered to vote.

The survey, released Monday by the Pew Research Center, found that the number of Latinos registered to vote in the state has increased more than tenfold since 2004 and currently stands at 102,000. But the state also has the 18th-highest eligible Latino voter population in the nation with 196,000 eligible voters — meaning almost half of these Latino residents have not registered to vote.

But Ivan Parra, executive director of the North Carolina Latino Coalition, said the Latino bloc is increasingly enthusiastic about this year’s election. His organization has helped community leaders encourage Latinos to vote.

He added that while there are some undecided voters, the majority of Hispanic voters favors President Barack Obama over Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

“There are plenty of Latinos trying to figure out who is the right candidate,” he said. “But the majority is leaning toward the Democratic side.”

Political analysts cite immigration issues as a major reason why Latino voters increasingly favor Democratic candidates.

Parra said he believes comprehensive immigration reform is important, but his organization is also focused on issues like employment and access to services.

Justin Gross, a UNC political science professor, said that Republicans like former President Ronald Reagan were more willing to discuss reforms such as legalization for undocumented immigrants. Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986, which aimed to prevent the hiring of illegal immigrants and created a legalization program for some of these immigrants.

But the 9/11 attacks led to opposition to reforms for national security concerns, Gross said.

He added that even though the top issues among Latinos are jobs and the economy, rhetoric on immigration can be alienating if it is seen as too harsh by voters.

“Even if immigration is not a top issue, it can be if something seems overly draconian,” said Gross, who is also chief statistician for, a website that tracks Latino voting trends.

With Obama and Romney locked in a tight race in North Carolina, the Latino vote could become a deciding factor.

“I think on Election Day, youth and Latino voters who are more excited could be the difference,” said Sam Spencer, president of the Young Democrats of North Carolina.

Garrett Jacobs, chairman of the UNC College Republicans, said that while the impact Latinos could have on the election is uncertain, their power as a voting bloc could lead candidates to change their rhetoric.

“It could also make candidates talk about issues important to Latino voters,” Jacobs said.

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