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updated: 9/21/2012 4:29 PM

Forum seeks to educate Latino voters in Elgin

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At a voter education forum in Elgin two years ago, then seventh-grader Anthony Ruiz looked around the room and saw people paying attention. They weren't bored. They were listening and taking notes.

About 300 people attended that forum, organized by the League of United Latin American Citizens and a coalition of other local groups, including the Youth Leadership Academy, of which Ruiz is a member.

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"It was a good experience to know that we actually informed that community," Anthony said.

A second forum will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 26 at the Gail Borden Library, 270 N. Grove Ave., Elgin. Organizers expect more than a dozen candidates in eight local and state races that will be decided in the Nov. 6 election to attend. Anthony has spent plenty of free time in recent months researching the candidates and the offices for which they're running to write the questions for the forum with his fellow Youth Leadership Academy cadets.

YLA Executive Director Dianha Ortega-Ehreth, a primary organizer of the event, said one goal of the forum is to get the message across to young people that civic engagement starts early.

"Just because you can't vote yet doesn't mean you should tune out," she said.

Candidates will not have the opportunity to debate their opponents during the forum. The format is focused on education -- about the offices themselves and the political process. Ortega-Ehreth said it will be especially helpful to new voters, whether they just turned 18 or recently became U.S. citizens, but she added she has learned a lot through the research process and has been voting for years.

Some questions will be issue-oriented and help voters see where candidates stand on key issues, especially those most important to the Latino community. And Ortega-Ehreth emphasized that issues much broader than immigration factor into the minds of Latino voters. Just like anyone else heading to the ballot box, Latinos are concerned about jobs, education and property taxes, too, she said. And in Elgin, the group makes up the largest ethnic demographic.

Forum attendees will have a chance to weigh in on which issues matter most to them, taking an active part in the political process.

A candidate meet-and-greet will follow the question-and-answer part of the forum when attendees also will have a chance to register to vote.

The overall goal is to increase voter turnout, especially within the Latino community, which historically has had lower numbers at the polls. Ortega-Ehreth said she has heard frustration from the community about the government but urges people to stay involved in the democratic process.

"Not voting basically says you're OK with everything that's going on," Ortega-Ehreth said. "People get elected because we let them get to that position. We just want to get more people to the polls."

Simultaneous interpretation equipment will be available for Spanish speakers during the forum.

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