Registration drive seeks to close voting gap among Latinos
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A nonpartisan group says targeted mailings that encourage voter registration are going out to one-in-eight residents of New Mexico.
The nonprofit, Washington.-based Voter Participation Center says it will attempt to reach more than 248,000 people in the state by mail in January as part of a new national campaign to reach populations that are statistically underrepresented in elections.
The effort seeks to narrow the gap between those eligible to vote and those who are registered to vote — a gap that is especially pronounced among Latinos, said center founder and president Page Gardner.
New Mexico has the highest percentage of Latino residents of any state, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, estimated at well above 40% of the population. Young adults and single, unmarried women are another focus of the drive intended to increase overall voting.
Gardner said multiple waves of mailings and emails are planned between now and the November general election.
“What we do is bring people into the process through registration, then it’s incumbent on the candidates to obviously make their case,” she said. “Many people won’t respond the first time, but they will respond the third or fourth time. ... You want to catch them in those moments in time when they are paying attention.”
Voter registration drives are being transformed by advances in technology, even among tradition-steeped groups such as the League of Women Voters that dates back a century to the suffrage movement for women.
Gardner said her organization cross-references voter rolls with commercial databases to suss out unregistered-but-eligible potential voters. It estimates that about 570,000 people who are eligible vote in the state are not registered.
“Voter rolls are public, but what no state has and won’t provide is a list of unregistered people,” she said. “You have to back it out in terms of commercial data.”
Gardner said that bringing big data to bear effectively on voter turnout involves screening commercial mailing lists for anomalies, including popular pet names, noting that some people subscribe to magazines under the household dog’s name.
She says one point of pride for the Voter Participation Center and companion Center for Voter Information is the dollar amount it spends per successful registration.
“We can determine who we register — and who we register only because of our program — and what the cost structure of that was,” she said.
The centers do not publicly report the names of their financial contributors, which include individuals and “large family foundations,” Gardner said.
Gardner said 9 million mailings are going out nationwide in January . State election authorities are notified of the centers’ registration campaigns.
Secretary of state spokesman Alex Curtas said the agency has been in communication with the Voter Participation Center to help it improve efficiencies and ensure special registration requirements for New Mexico are noted.
A federal voter registration form does not require a Social Security number, he said, while New Mexico requires at least the last four-digits of the applicant’s number.
“We do see some room for improvement in how they conduct these mailings,” he said in an email.