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Latino groups reach out for new voters

For the last four weeks, BB&T bank and Latino community organizations in Charlotte have urged Latino immigrants to register to vote.

They've succeeded, registering nearly 1,000 new voters. But on Saturday, when they organized a final big push, they ran into the continuing gas shortage and bad weather.

“We were worried about that, that it may have an impact,” said Ruben Campillo of the Latin American Coalition, one of the community organizations hosting the voter drive at Compare Foods groceries throughout the area. “The work will continue, even if we don't register the number of people we had hoped for.”

The campaign, called “Tu Voz Cuenta!” (“Your Voice Counts!”), began about four weeks ago with a series of advertisements in La Noticia, Charlotte's Spanish-language newspaper. The idea, Campillo said, was to help Charlotte's legal Latinos realize the importance of voting in an election year.

The drive Saturday took place at seven area Compare Foods – four in Charlotte, one each in Gastonia, Monroe and Kannapolis – and a Gastonia BB&T. Compare Foods are popular in Latino communities, and volunteers passed out voter registration forms, ballots and pamphlets on voting.

The gas crisis was a problem. Near the Compare Foods at Independence Shopping Center, a line of about 75 cars stretched west approaching a nearby BP. That frustrated some potential voters – and volunteers, too.

“I know a lot of members who were going to come who couldn't make it because they didn't have gas,” said volunteer Wendy Arieta, 26.

But the campaign overall has succeeded in part because of Barack Obama's nomination, Arieta said. She's said several Latinos she knows want to vote this year because Obama is the first minority presidential candidate. “That makes it more exciting for everybody,” she said.

Still, her Saturday had its frustrating moments. Some said they were already registered. Others ignored her. Still others did what a crew-cut young man in a white t-shirt did on his way into the store – tell Arieta he didn't care for either presidential candidate.

“He's probably illegal and can't register to vote,” she said. “I've heard that about three times today.”

But Arieta eventually found a taker – Manuel Rodriguez, 28, who said he hadn't registered since moving to Charlotte from New York three years ago.

“Look at the country. Somebody's got to do something, right?” Rodriguez said. “Everybody's struggling.”