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Study: Hall County has state's highest growth of Latino voters

POSTED: August 7, 2013 12:52 a.m.

Hall County leads all Georgia counties in the growth of new Latino voters and in the decline of Latino voter participation rates, according to a study released Tuesday by the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials.

The report found nearly 184,000 Hispanic voters in the state, which is about 3 percent of the state’s electorate and a growth of 26 percent since GALEO’s 2008 study.

Hall has the fifth-largest number of registered Latino voters in the state at 7,095, with Gainesville accounting for about 1,583, according to the report. The growth of registered Latino voters in the county since the 2008 study is 35.25 percent.

The increase could help redefine Georgia state politics in years to come.

Nationwide, Latinos tend to vote more Democratic, and that could have implications statewide and locally unless Republicans broaden their appeal, said Charles Bullock, political science professor at the University of Georgia. The state has a large African-American population and growing Latino and Asian-American populations, but most Republicans currently win office with few minority votes.

“Three percent, that’s not a whole lot of the electorate obviously,” Bullock said. “What’s happening is the Georgia electorate is less and less white, less and less Anglo, is more minority.”

GALEO’s study of the Latino electorate in Georgia was authored by Jerry Gonzalez, the group’s executive director, with database analysis on voter turnout by M.V. “Trey” Hood, political science professor and graduate coordinator at the University of Georgia.

The Hall Elections Office has smaller figures for Latino voters, with about 5,226 registered in the county and 1,241 in the city.

The report primarily identified Latino voters by cross-referencing Hispanic last names with voter record files. Self-identification, a method used by the U.S. Bureau of Census, was a secondary way to identify Hispanic voters. The surname matching was done by the National Association of Latino Elected Officials.

The study found that 2,614, or 36.8 percent of Hispanic voters, cast ballots in Hall in the November 2012 election, and 488, or 30.8 percent, of Gainesville Hispanic voters participated.

“In Hall County, poultry is king,” Gonzalez said. “You’ve got generations of families that have worked and contributed to the success of Hall County and the success of Gainesville in the poultry industry.”

Despite that history, Gonzalez said he is concerned with Latinos’ voting power in the city.

He has said GALEO plans to file a lawsuit against Gainesville next month because the organization asserts the city’s at-large election system violates the Voting Rights Act.

“A large percentage of the Latino voters in Hall County reside within the city of Gainesville, I think is one important fact,” Gonzalez said. “I think the other part that leads to our concerns with regards to the at-large voting is that the Latino vote is depressed in Hall County as well as in the city of Gainesville.”

Georgia’s Secretary of State website reflects different numbers of Hispanic registered voters and turnout in the 2012 general election for Hall County. It shows 4,078 registered Hispanic voters and 1,824 actually voting.

The county’s Latino turnout rate fell from the 2008 election year to 2012 by nearly 9 percent, according to the GALEO report. The overall turnout rate in Hall fell by about 6 percent between those two elections.

Gonzalez cites several barriers for the area’s low Latino turnout rates, including language, lack of experience, social and economic factors limiting information, and political neglect of the electorate.

Bullock said he and Hood did research when the state’s voter identification law went into effect in 2007, and it showed the law wasn’t an obstacle to participation.

Allowing all city residents to vote for the representative in each ward decreases minority turnout in Gainesville because it dilutes the opportunity of Hispanic voters to choose a representative of their choice, Gonzalez said. The City Council has said the system gives good representation to all citizens.

The positions of mayor and council seats for wards 1 and 4 are up for election in November. Two Latino candidates, one for mayor and one for ward 4, have announced their intention to run for those offices.

Long-term trends show Georgia’s electorate could demographically change enough by 2018 to affect statewide offices, Bullock said. Georgia may even be competitive in the 2016 presidential race.

The GALEO report also asserts that a Gainesville resident, Juan Herrera, was denied the right to vote in 2008 and 2012 by a poll worker because the worker wouldn’t accept Herrera’s U.S. passport as proof of citizenship, despite his name being on the voter registration list.

“The right to vote is a fundamental right, one of the most important rights, and I have been deprived of it,” the report quotes Herrera as saying.

Hall County Elections Director Charlotte Sosebee said she had not heard of this voter’s issue and said the passport is an acceptable form of identification. It’s easier to use a driver’s license, she said, but he could have voted with his passport.

“Nobody’s turned away,” Sosebee said. “Even if they don’t have the correct ID, they’re allowed to vote with a provisional ballot, so really nobody’s turned away at all.”

Sosebee said she couldn’t find Herrera in Hall County’s voter registration system. There are 14 Juan Herreras in the state, but none were listed in Hall County, she said. A Times public records search produced four different physical addresses for the name Juan Herrera in Gainesville, but no working phone number.

Gonzalez declined to help The Times contact Herrera because he is a potential plaintiff in the expected GALEO lawsuit against Gainesville.


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