On Thursday, the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project kicked off a big voter registration drive.
The voter project, founded in San Antonio in 1974, bills itself as a national nonpartisan, nonprofit group that mobilizes Latinos to vote.
"We have invited Democratic presidential candidates to speak, since the Democratic primary race is the juciest, and there's no race on the Republican side for president," said Antonio Gonzalez, president of the voter project.
The group hopes to register 2 million more Latino voters by the 2004 general elections, increasing the number to 10 million. It also hopes to mobilize 8 million registered Latino voters to cast votes come fall 2004.
"Houston has the top concentration of unregistered Latinos in Texas and is second in the country for concentration of unregistered, eligible Latino voters," said Gonzalez.
The group hopes to register at least 30,000 new Latino voters in the Houston area by fall 2004. Gonzalez said the area now has about 200,000 registered and 200,000 unregistered, eligible Latino voters.
Although the group has concentrated its Texas efforts in San Antonio and South Texas in the past decade, it plans to get more involved in Houston, whose Latino population has exploded in the past 15 years, Gonzalez said.
The group, he said, mobilizes voters by first networking with community leaders, elected officials, civic groups, businesses and church leaders.
"We offer them training so they can go door to door and literally register people one voter at a time," he said.
Mobilizing Latinos to vote has never been more important, Gonzalez said, because the increased population holds the potential to help Republican and Democratic candidates gain or maintain a majority in political offices.
"There was a time the mainstream didn't believe the Latino vote could make a difference," he said. "But both parties know they need a larger share of our vote, and that gives us a lot of leverage. If we play our cards right, we can advance issues from our various points of view in politics."
The group hopes to raise $3 million and plans to focus efforts in 14 Southwest states and assist sister organizations in the Midwest, East and Southeast.
It said it has registered more than 2.2 million Latino voters throughout the Southwest and Florida.