MARSHALL - Bob Quasius isn't against a stricter voter ID standard in Minnesota. In fact, he supports it and sees it as an important component in restoring voters' trust in the electoral system.
He just doesn't want it to become a racial issue.
Quasius, who was treasurer of the Lyon County Republican Party at one time, is the founder of Caf Con Leche Republicans, a six-month old, Marshall-based national Republican group that strives to build a more immigrant-friendly society through political activism, "in-reach" and education within the party. Quasius and his group was behind the push to get Minnesota Majority to remove the controversial political voter ID cartoon that depicted, among others, a Hispanic man in a mariachi costume and a black man in prison garb standing in line to vote. The group's efforts prompted Minnesota Majority to edit the cartoon and eliminate its racial overtones.
"It's an example of Democrats trying to inject race into this," Quasius said. "We don't believe that it's racist to require voter ID. We didn't like the cartoon; we thought it was a bad idea. It's about perception. If people perceive this as racist they're going to be offended. There is no evidence at all that undocumented people are voting in elections. If there is fraud, it's more of the garden-variety type. Voter ID has less to do with the possibility of undocumented immigrants voting than people voting multiple times or dead people voting."
The voter ID issue has gathered steam at the state Capitol, and the move to amend the Constitution to make voters show a photo ID at the polls got a boost Tuesday night when the House passed the proposal 72-62 after a nine-hour debate. The amendment, if passed by a simple majority in both chambers, would circumvent Gov. Mark Dayton and let voters decide this fall whether a photo ID will be required at the voting booth.
Quasius, whose wife is a legal immigrant from Honduras, said he's skeptical that requiring voter ID will cause voter disenfranchisement.
"Many adult Latinos don't want to leave their home without their ID," Quasius said. "Most have ID anyway."
Quasius said there is concern about voter apathy among the Hispanic population, mostly because of a lack of education on the candidates and the election process as a whole.
"Most Hispanics are either immigrants themselves or are one or two generations removed, and they're just not that familiar with the process," he said. "We want to educate them, first on the importance of registering to vote and then actually turning out to vote. There's an education process that needs to happen and Republicans have not been doing it as well as Democrats in recent years."
Quasius said he will organize meetings in the future to talk to Hispanics about voter registration and explain how the voting system works as a means to encourage more Hispanics to vote this fall.
Quasius is also a member of Newt Gingrich's Hispanic leadership team. While both GOP presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have offered controversial and much-scrutinized ideas on immigration in the past weeks, Quasius thinks Gingrich has separated himself from his rivals in a positive way because of his more centrist take on the topic.
"He's saying, 'Look, it's not practical to deport 11 million people; it just isn't going to happen,'" Quasius said. "So we need a process - he calls it a path to legality - let's figure out a way for people who have been here a long time, who have roots in the community, who don't have a criminal record, can find a way to stay. He recognizes the Hispanic vote is important in this election."
Quasius said the support for our presidents from the Hispanic and Latino community has been dropping. He noted that President George W. Bush received 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in his re-election and some recent polls have suggested that support has dropped since by about two-thirds to about 14 percent.
"It's a pretty drastic drop," Quasius said. "Hispanics are not single-issue voters; immigration is important to them, but nationally it's one of several top issues. But the way that a candidate speaks to the immigration issue has quite an impact. Newt is the only candidate that hasn't reached out to the extremists."
Quasius is confident Gingrich can make a serious run at gaining the GOP nomination, despite trailing both Romney and Santorum by a substantial margin of delegates. Given the volatility of the GOP race, Gingrich is very well in the running, he said.
"We think he'll do very well in Texas, we think he'll do fairly well in California as well," he said. "We're only about 30 percent there and none of the candidates are anywhere close to getting the number of delegates needed. This may very well go all the way to the convention."
Quasius said the Hispanic vote will be critical in this year's general election. He said analysts have predicted the Republican Party will need upwards of 30 to 40 percent to compete with President Barack Obama.
"It's not impossible to win, but those votes that aren't there from the Hispanic demographic pool need to be gotten from somewhere else in order for the successful nominee to win. We think Newt would have much better support from Hispanics in the general election, whereas Romney and Santorum are kind of boxed in because of recent comments they have made,"?he said.
According to the 2010 Census, the number of Hispanics in Minnesota has ballooned more than 74 percent in the last decade, making it the fastest growing ethnic minority. Hispanics and Latinos make up just under 5 percent of the state's population. Lyon County has more than 1,500 Hispanic/Latino residents, which represents 6 percent of the population. Yellow Medicine County has 397 Hispanic/Latino residents (3.8 percent of the population), Redwood County has 335, or 2.1 percent, and Lincoln County 72, or 1.2 percent. Quasius said the local Hispanic population, a group that carries conservative social values, isn't sold on Romney or Santorum.
Caf Con Leche Republicans has also endorsed Minnesota congressional candidates and immigration reform supporters Anthony Hernandez and Keith Fields.