Boosting Latino turnout for elections is the only way to break the "vicious circle" that leaves Hispanics with so little political influence, according to the head of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, or NALEO.

"It's very worrying, because we know the Latino vote has impact, but we're not living up to our potential as an electorate," Arturo Vargas said in an interview with Efe.

A recent NALEO report said that only around a third of the roughly 25 million U.S. Latinos eligible to vote will cast ballots in this year's mid-term congressional elections.

Vargas ruled out apathy on the part of the Latino community, but did consider that there has been a loss of faith in the political system.

"If we don't get involved and don't vote, we'll very likely be ignored - it's a vicious circle that we have to break," he said.

NALEO predicts a 17.7 percent increase in Latino participation for the November elections over the 2010 midterms, when 6.65 million Hispanics went to the polls.

Vargas acknowledged that presidential elecciones draw a larger turnout, but said that local elections can sometimes be more relevant with regard to issues of interest to the Hispanic community.

Taking advantage of his visit to San Diego, where NALEO will hold its annual convention on June 26-28, Vargas cited the example of February's special mayoral election in the California city.

Democrat David Alvarez saw his bid to become San Diego's first Latino mayor in the modern era thwarted by his Republican city council colleague Kevin Faulconer.

Residents of California's second-largest city went to the polls in November for a special election to replace Mayor Bob Fillner, who resigned in a sexual harassment scandal.

Faulconer finished first in a field of 11 candidates, taking 43 percent of the vote. Alvarez, with 25 percent of the vote, edged out fellow Democrat Nathan Fletcher to qualify for the February runoff.

Together, the two Democrats outpolled Faulconer in November, but some of those Democratic votes melted away in the runoff.

"If more Latinos had voted, today the mayor of San Diego would be someone else," Vargas said.

"When I began my work we had seven legislators in Sacramento (home of the California state legislature), today there are 31, which means we have made some very significant progress," Vargas said.

Vargas noted that California "has been a pioneering state" in American politics, and despite the lack of immigration reform at a federal level, state bills like the Trust Act have survived, as has the possibility for the undocumented to get a driver's license.

"We're in this battle for the long term," he said. "Nothing will be accomplished with just a campaign, a candidate or an election, only with our constant participation."

For that reason, he asked citizens of voting age to register and take part in next November's elections, in which important decisions will be taken that could change the course both of the state and of the nation.

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