A record number of North Carolina Hispanics have registered to cast ballots on Nov. 6, state election officials said on the final day for voter registration.
The North Carolina State Board of Elections on Friday reported a total of 105,798 Latino registered voters, an increase of 26 percent over last year's figure of 83,804.
The increase was due to several factors, including the arrival of Hispanics from other parts of the country and demographic changes as more U.S.-born children of immigrant parents turn 18 and become eligible to vote, Justin Gross, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina, said.
"Young people have injected energy into the contest and I think they'll make a difference on election day," Gross said.
He added that "both the Republicans and Democrats recognize that (the Latino) vote is important and have made a great effort to capture it" in the Tar Heel state, where the Hispanic population as a percentage of the total climbed from 4.7 percent in 2000 to 8.4 percent in 2010.
At least 26,000 Hispanics voted in 2008 when Barack Obama won the state's 15 electoral votes by less than 15,000 ballots, becoming the first Democrat to win North Carolina since Jimmy Carter in 1976.
Although they represent less than 2 percent of the state's 6.5 million registered voters, Hispanics may have the last word considering that Republican challenger Mitt Romney currently leads Obama in the polls by just two percentage points.
"Any voting bloc can make the difference in tight contests and each vote matters," Ferrel Guillory, a journalism professor who founded UNC's Program on Public Life, told Efe Friday.
"Hispanics' voting potential is very promising, and it will depend in part on whether these new Americans come out to vote in November," he said.
Carlos Casallas, the State Board of Elections' bilingual coordinator of special projects, told Efe that a flood of voter registration applications have been submitted in recent months.
"We're always busy during presidential elections but these have something special, particularly the Hispanic civic participation. There are a lot of enthusiastic young people who will be voting for the first time," Casallas told Efe.
He said the fact North Carolina is considered a battleground state has motivated its citizens, including the Latino population.
"The community groups have done a great job registering voters, as have the Obama and Romney campaigns," Casallas added.
"We don't take any votes for granted," Cameron French, spokesman for Obama for America, told Efe, adding that staff and volunteers in that state have "worked hard to register Hispanics and encourage them to vote."
"I feel like my vote counts now," Arturo Carmona, who will vote for the first time in November, told Efe Friday in Charlotte.
The Republican Party, meanwhile, has not lagged behind in its bid to attract the Latino vote, organizing voter registration drives at political rallies and events.
"We recognize the importance of Latinos as a voting bloc, not only now but in the future. We've laid the foundation for future elections and above all at the local and state level," Republican Party campaign spokeswoman Bettina Inclan told Efe.
At present, 43.8 percent of North Carolina's Hispanics are registered as Democrats, 18.5 percent as Republicans and the remaining 37 percent as independents. EFE