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Seeking more impact at polls, Arizona groups working to register Hispanics

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MESA – Six days a week at 3 p.m., high school senior Betzy Solis slips on her white Mi Familia Vota T-shirt, packs her purse with water bottles and fills her clipboard with voter registration cards before heading off to knock on doors.

On a recent weekday, that mission took her to a neighborhood near the Chicago Cubs’ spring training facility, encouraging residents of the primarily Hispanic area to register to vote or, if they’re already registered, to sign up to vote early.

In the hour reporters walked with her, Solis knocked on about 20 doors, but of the two where residents answered one wanted nothing to do with her and the other talked with Solis but didn’t want to fill out paperwork. She left fliers with the rest.

“It gets the voice out,” Solis said. “It gets people to vote. It gets the people to understand how and why it is important to vote. That’s what Mi Familia is about.”

With the general election approaching, Mi Familia Vota and 11 other organizations that are part of the coalition One Arizona are trying to get Hispanics to commit to voting and get them on the permanent early ballot list. Their goal: turning this demographic’s numbers – an estimated 30.3 percent of all Arizonans – into voting power.

“The most effective approach is door-to-door,” said Francisco Heredia, director of One Arizona. “We are on pace to knock on 130,000 doors in Maricopa and Pima counties.”

He said Hispanics have the power to decide elections as their voting numbers increase.

“Latinos have been the only demographic to increase turnout in the last four elections,” Heredia said.

Heredia said the early voting list is moving in the right direction, increasing from 90,000 in 2010 to more than 265,000 now, in part because of knocks on doors by One Arizona’s 12 participating organizations.

For Solis, the mission takes five hours a day, Saturday through Thursday, and involves knocking on up to 90 doors per shift.

“We want to make a difference,” Solis said.

Cristian Avial, Arizona state lead for Mi Familia Vota, said the team aims to make a difference. One way canvassers do this is by having people fill out commitment cards that include three reasons why they want to vote this year. These cards are collected and then mailed back to the voters around election time to remind them why they want to vote.

“They commit themselves. They’re going to vote in this year’s election,” Avial said.

Despite the efforts of One Arizona and other groups, about 15 percent of the state’s registered voters in the 2012 election were Latino, according to a report by Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy. A big part of the reason, the report said, is that the majority of the state’s Hispanic population is under the age of 18.

Joseph Garcia, director of Morrison Institute’s Latino Public Policy Center, said that while Hispanic voting power is growing it’s unlikely to make a significant difference until more of the population reaches adulthood and engages on issues. That may not happen until 2030, he said.

The Morrison Institute report noted that younger Americans are less likely to vote than older people. The effect is notable among Hispanics, whose median age in Arizona is 25 versus 44 for non-Hispanic whites.

“Voters have to be excited to actually take part in voting,” Garcia said.

Ultimately, he said, the influence of Hispanic voters could turn Arizona from a state dominated by Republicans to one where Democrats hold sway.

“It’s hard to envision it, but data don’t lie,” Garcia said. “That’s what’s going to happen.”

Back in Mesa, Solis said she and other canvassers for Mi Familia Vota will continue their work.

“When it comes to making a difference for the state, we go for it,” Solis said. “We want to make a difference.”