As both the Republican and Democratic parties clamor to claim a larger share of the Latino electorate this year, electronic voter registration has emerged as a potential sweet spot, a space where political procedure may collide with culture and boost Latino voter participation. In New Mexico, that theory is in the early stages of a ground test. Jetta Reynolds has spent a good portion of the last five years working to register voters in the Albuquerque, N.M., area. She’s heard the questions people raise about the process so often that before she deployed nearly 200 volunteers to do the same work at grocery stores and street fairs this year, she created her own Spanish and English-language voter registration brochure. But when Reynolds took Jason Libersky — one of the developers behind a new voter registration app called Evotee — and his iPad to a session for mostly Latino and Native American potential voters Monday, it was Reynolds who walked away surprised.
“With paper forms, you always run into people who hesitate when you ask for their Social [Security number],” Reynolds said. “Once that happens, you usually wind up giving them the form and just hoping they’ll actually drop it in the mail. But it seemed like every person Jason asked — name, birthdate, social, address– it was just tap, tap, swipe and send. I honestly can’t say I’ve seen anything like it.”
This month, Libersky and his app will team up with the Tequila Party, an organization founded by Latinas concerned about the tenor and content of the nation’s immigration debate. Since 2008 — a year in which then-candidate Barack Obama’s campaign organization registered and mobilized millions of new voters — nearly 30 states have enacted laws restricting the activities of groups and individuals that work to put voters on the rolls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In 2011 alone, legislators in 34 states considered so-called voter ID laws. Voter ID policies require voters to present specific types of identification in order to cast a ballot. To date, 10 states have put voter ID laws in place. New Mexico does not have a voter ID law but has restricted the activities of groups that have worked to register voters for most of the last six years. It is also widely considered a potential swing state where the Latino vote may control political fates. In New Mexico, where nearly half of the population is Hispanic and voted heavily for Obama in 2008, Gov. Susana Martinez has also been mentioned as a potential running mate for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.