GOTV on the West Side

None of Minnesota's major parties have truly courted the Hispanic vote, but that doesn't mean Latinos aren't voting.

For example, the West Side Citizens Organization, the district council that encompasses precincts 15 and 16 in St. Paul's Second Ward, has spent the last two elections spearheading voter drives. The districts were chosen in part, according to Sam Buffington, WSCO's "community connector," because the two districts have the highest number of persons of color and young people in the city.

By WSCO and Buffington's measure, the get-out-the-vote efforts are working. But who are they working for?

Buffington says the effort will have about 40 volunteers altogether, and about 20 at its peak today, when door knocking and pamphlet dropping will begin at 4 p.m. until polls close. Buffington points out that of the 4,000-5,000 eligible voters in those two precincts, the last two elections have seen an increase in voter turnout.

In 2004, precinct 15 saw 49.18 percent of 18-plus residents go to the polls, an increase over the 29.68 percent historically seen in presidential election years. The same pattern was true in precinct 16, which saw a jump to 49.19 percent in '04, compared with a historic turnout of 36 percent. Buffington also notes that a similar spike was seen last year compared to 2001, for an "off-year" comparison

While the image of St. Paul's West Side is that of a Latino enclave, it's more to the point to say that it's one of the most diverse parts of the entire metro. "We encounter Latinos, of course, but many new immigrants are Somali, Hmong, and we still have a large number of African American residents and whites," Buffington says.

Still, about 30 percent of the first-time voters the non-partisan WSCO reaches are Latino, according to Buffington. "Many Somali and Hmong are not eligible to vote," he concedes.

Who do the new voters vote for? "I have no idea," Buffington says earnestly. "We are as non-partisan as an organization could possibly be. My guess is that many new immigrants would vote Democratic. Immigration is huge this year, and that's driving people to the polls.

"Then again, we have many longtime residents and second- and third-generation Chicanos who are on the other side of that," Buffington concludes. "You never know."

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