This item has been updated.
One of the nation's largest Latino civic groups claims that it has helped register more than 100,000 new voters, a key milestone announced as voter registration deadlines are nearing in several states.
Voto Latino, a nonpartisan, mostly online-based voter registration group, says it helped compile 101,720 new voter registrations between November 2015 and last weekend, topping registration rates from previous presidential election years. In the past few weeks, the group says it has been assisting more than 5,000 people register per day, exceeding a 3,000-per day goal.
Voto Latino's figures are impossible to independently verify — and don't necessarily mean that the group has helped register more than 100,000 new Hispanic voters. Tracking a voter's ethnicity won't be possible until voter files can be reviewed after November's election. There is also no national way to track how many voters are registering ahead of November's elections, but several nonpartisan civic groups that focus on registering Latino voters, including National Council of La Raza and Mi Familia Vota, have reported in recent days modest increases in signups compared to four years ago.
Voto Latino uses its website and a network of hundreds of partners across the country — including independent bloggers, Hollywood actors, the Spotify music-streaming service and popular Spanish-language rock bands — to encourage Hispanics to vote, primarily by using its VoterPal app.
The group's top four states for registrations were Texas (20,483 new voters), California (13,394), Florida (10,565) and North Carolina (6,297). Just 2 percent of the Tar Heel State's registered voters are Hispanic, roughly 135,000 out of more than 6.4 million as of February, according to the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.
While small, the North Carolina numbers are notable, because it trumped states with larger Latino populations, including Arizona, Colorado and Nevada, where Latino political activism is more pronounced. The uptick in North Carolina is partly because of an increased rate of Internet searches for voter registration information, the group said. Democrats have focused this year on registering small, but growing percentages of Latinos in several states, including North Carolina, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Wisconsin, believing that they could make the difference in close races, especially in the presidential race.
But increased registration rates don't guarantee turnout: Historically, Hispanics show up to vote in lower numbers than other groups.
The reported uptick comes as these civic groups are scrambling to register historic numbers of Latinos in what promises to be one of the most consequential election for Hispanics in modern American history. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, with his incendiary comments about illegal immigrants from Mexico, has sparked widespread furor, concern and awareness among Latinos ever since launching his campaign last year — emotions that Latino leaders know must be met with evidence of increased participation to prove that Trump's theories and pronouncements were soundly rejected by the nation's largest minority group.
Voto Latino claims it has reached the 100,000 threshold faster than any other national organization working on registering Latinos — a claim that appears to be true. And it comes at a time when several groups are suffering from significant funding shortfalls. Large philanthropic organizations and progressive groups that have historically funded voter registration or "get out the vote" projects backed off this year or gave considerably less than in the past. This has especially affected Mi Familia Vota and the National Council of La Raza.
Maria Teresa Kumar, Voto Latino president and chief executive, said her group has raised $1.5 million for registration programs this year, below what the group has raised for previous cycles.
"We’re trying to do more with less, but it’s incredibly challenging," she said, noting that the group's focus on registering new voters through the Internet helps keep overall costs low.
Kumar said in a separate statement that she believes registrations spiked in the past few weeks not because of Trump but based on the group's understanding of Latino voting behaviors developed over its several years of tracking registration patterns.
"This is not simply a reaction to any candidate — but, in fact, Voto Latino has been able to predict when the interest would uptick and when to turn on different social strategies based on our research," she said in her statement.
Across the country, activists, lawmakers and political consultants have said that Hispanics are flooding into citizenship workshops and congressional offices and jamming hotlines on how to become U.S. citizens or register to vote. Many said they are primarily motivated by the rise of Trump, who has proposed deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants and building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
This year, amid the funding shortfall and the unique nature of Trump's anti-immigrant message, all sorts of groups are trying new, creative ways to reach potential voters. Kumar's group has partnered with the Mexican rock band Mana, among other artists, while the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is encouraging taco truck owners to provide voter registration forms to customers. The group did so after a Trump supporter warned on national television that a failure to stop Latinos and their "dominant culture" would mean "you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner."
Earlier this year, California officials reported that the number of Hispanics registering to vote had doubled in the first three months of this year compared with the same period in 2012. In Texas, naturalization ceremonies in the Houston area swelled earlier this year to about 2,200 per month, compared with 1,200 before, according to an analysis by the Houston Chronicle.
A recent Pew analysis compared the number of citizenship applications filed during the first nine months of fiscal 2016 (October 2015-June 2016) with the same period in fiscal 2015 and found a 26 percent spike in citizenship applications. The 718,430 citizenship applications filed by legal permanent residents this fiscal year is an 8 percent jump over the same period in 2012, Pew said.