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New Latino Voters May Change Political Map

"Today we march, tomorrow we vote!" - the chant at the recent immigration rights rallies -- may translate into a changed electoral landscape in many states across the country.

Traditionally, even Latino citizens have had low turnout rates at elections. Only 47 percent of eligible Hispanics went to the polls in 2004 compared to 67 percent of whites and 60 percent of blacks. 

But the backlash against federal anti-immigrant legislation may translate into far higher Latino turnout rates nationwide, much as Latino (and other immigrant) voting spiked in California in the mid-90s after the anti-immigrant Prop 187 was passed in that state.

But it's not just current citizens who could change the political map. With the number of Latinos too young to vote or not currently citizens, Latinos made up only 6 percent of the electorate in 2004 � far below their 14.3% of the population. But that could rapidly change as young Latinos come of voting age and others apply for citizenship.

The most startling fact is that in March, 1.8 million citizenship forms � a record monthly number � were downloaded off the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Web site.

There's been a lot of focus on undocumented immigrants in recent weeks, but it's important to observe that about 8 million immigrants already legally qualify for citizenship but haven't yet applied, according to Department of Homeland Security data. Almost half were born in Latin America, including one-third in Mexico. So there is a potential for literally millions of new voters to enter the political arena in coming years � a wildcard that could change the electoral calculus in races across the country.

As these NCLR state profiles show, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Texas, and Washington are the states with the largest Latino populations, but states like Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee have seen the fastest growth in their Latino populations, so this new dynamic will be reshaping the politics across the country -� a point emphasized by the number of cities and communities that saw immigrant rights protests in the last month.

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