Two-year-old Ariel Ferreras of Takoma Park, Maryland, accompanies his mother Erika as she participates in early voting November 2, 2012 at Silver Spring Civic Building in Silver Spring, Maryland. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Op-Ed: The road to the White House is through El Barrio

It’s time for the sleeping GIANT to awake.

More than 12.2 million Latino voters are expected to cast ballots on Election Day, according to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Education Fund.

An impressive number until you place it next to another; 10 million. That’s the approximate number of Latinos who will not be voting on Tuesday says NALEO.

What good is it for Latinos to be more than 50 million strong, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, if the nearly 24 million of voting age citizens don’t “ejerser su derecho al voto.”

Our community has a chance to be the deciding factor in who leads our country for the next four years. Latinos hold the reins in nine key battleground states, among them Colorado, Nevada and Florida (44 collective electoral votes of the 270 needed to become president).

The road to the White House is through El Barrio.

Through neighborhoods like Azalea Park in Orlando, Florida, where President Barack Obama spoke with prospective voters in la Lechonera El Barrio café and southwest Las Vegas, where Governor Mitt Romney’s Spanish speaking son, Craig met with supporters.

Federal observers will be sent to polling places in Riverside and Alameda counties in California where there have been complaints of a lack of Spanish-speaking poll workers. Similar monitors will be looking over voting procedures in Maricopa County, Arizona.

While Latinos don’t call Ohio home in the same numbers as in other states, in this neck-and-neck race the 355,000 Latinos eligible to vote might very well make the difference. Obama leads Romney 51 to 47 among likely voters. No republican candidate has ever won the presidency without the Buckeye state.

It’s flattering to be courted by companies that align their profit growth with the continuing booming Latino population. Terms like the ‘majority minority’ and the $1.2 trillion dollar purchasing power are cause to walk with a swagger. Still, it’s all for naught if we don’t flex our political muscle.

Analysts predict eligible Latino voters will once again fall behind whites and blacks at the polls. A 2009 study by the Pew Research Center found that, in 2008, just 50% of eligible Latino voters cast ballots, compared with 65 percent of blacks and 66 percent of whites.

It’s not just at the polls where Latinos can assist in shaping the political portrait. There are many races where Latino candidates stand to make an impact.

In 39 states there are Latino candidates running for Senate and House seats. NALEO predicts that Latinos in state houses and assemblies will go up to 217 (from the current 190).

Many critics question the influence of the Latino vote in this and previous elections. A fair assessment comes from skeptics like Bruce Merrill, a professor who has worked as an Arizona pollster, who says, “Every single election, I’m told by the Hispanic leadership that this year is different and they’re going to go out and vote, and it’s never happened.”

Even though there were huge voter-registration drives in Hispanic neighborhoods, fewer than half of registered Hispanic voters told the Census Bureau they voted in 2008.

We’ve got skin in this game. So, let’s get off the sidelines and vote.

Don’t make excuses about why you can’t make it to a polling station. We all have busy lives, but we make the time for what matters most.

And don’t say that your vote doesn’t matter anyway because of what the latest polls predict or because you live in a historically blue or red state.

Your vote counts and not voting only transfers decision-making power to another person (more often than not the person who doesn’t share your point of view).

Many of us live in multi-generational households where we are the only eligible voter. Our vote is la esperanza de nuestras familias. Don’t silence your voice and theirs.

Please vote on Tuesday.

It is our right, privilege and responsibility.

Make sure to bring family and friends, encourage others to do the same.

It’s time for the sleeping GIANT to awake.

Op Ed: The road to the White House is through El Barrio  hugobalta politics NBC Latino News

Hugo Balta

National Association of Hispanic Journalists President

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