Politics • Outreach to Latinos and other voters intensifies as early voting gets under way.
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Raul Ramirez knows he will lose money, but offering free taxicab fares to voters who otherwise can't get to a polling place is, in his view, a small price to pay for democracy.
"I don't see it as losing at all," Ramirez said. "I think about how much we'll gain."
The 43-year-old owns, operates and drives a cab for his Utah Eagle Transport company. He and competitor Esteban Santos of Grillos Transport began offering the free rides to voters Tuesday to coincide with the start of early voting in Utah, which runs through Nov. 2. They will offer the free rides to polling locations during early voting and on Election Day, Nov. 6.
Ramirez said he estimates he'd lose a minimum of $10 per ride to the poll.
Both Santos and Ramirez who operate 24 cabs between them primarily serve the Latino community in Salt Lake County and they hope they will be able to bolster turnout amid a population that's historically been less active than other voting blocs.
Tony Yapias, director of Proyecto de Latino Utah, said the Latino vote could play a crucial role in several races notably in the Salt Lake County mayoral contest between Mark Crockett and Ben McAdams and the battle between Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and Republican challenger Mia Love in Utah's 4th Congressional District.
"We're going to make a difference," Yapias said. "We feel we're going to play an important role on Election Day."
The push comes at a time when Latinos are being courted in key swing states including neighboring Nevada and Colorado for the presidential race as U.S. Census data shows it's one of the fastest growing ethnicities in the country.
According to Pew Hispanic Research, a record 24 million Latinos are eligible to vote nationally. In Utah, there are 123,000 voting-eligible Hispanics ranking the state 24th in the nation.
And while Utah is expected to turn out heavily for Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, Democrats have been targeting the Latino population in hopes of nabbing some down-ticket races.
Melodía Gutiérrez said the Utah Democratic Party this weekend sent out 15,000 mailers in Spanish that touted candidates including McAdams for Salt Lake County mayor and several Latinos running for the Legislature.
The strategy is supported by polling data that shows Latinos leaning heavily toward Democrats. In a Latino Decisions national poll released Tuesday, Hispanics appear to have noticed the outreach efforts of both parties.
The survey found 57 percent believed Democrats were doing a good job of reaching out to them while only 17 percent said the same of Republicans.
But Santos and Ramirez stressed they will take anyone regardless of ethnicity, race or political party to the polls if they are unable to get there themselves.
Evelyn Call, spokeswoman for Crockett, the GOP Salt Lake mayoral candidate, also praised the effort.
"[He] is very supportive of initiatives that increase voter turnout," Call said. "He commends any business that is willing to assist voters in getting to the polls."
Yapias said an extensive effort to reach voters who need rides to the polls will include advertising in Spanish-language media, postings on social media networks and word-of-mouth in the community.
And while Yapias is hopeful the Latino vote will help McAdams whom he is supporting he said he wants to see increased participation among Latinos overall.
"Sometimes in the past we've seen where, especially the elderly, don't have transportation. Or somebody's car breaks down or they don't have a ride," Yapias said. "Now they won't have an excuse. They'll be able to vote and not have that regret saying, 'I wish I could've voted but I didn't have transportation.'"
Latino voting by the numbers
362,000 • Latinos in Utah
123,000 • eligible Latino voters
Utah • ranks 24th among states
Source: Pew Hispanic Center
To call for taxi service
Utah Eagle Transport • 801-982-1010
Grillos Transport • 801-973-8080