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HERRIN — John Steve is not sure which candidate, or even which political party, will get his vote for the next president of the United States.

He said he voted in the 2012 presidential election and plans to vote in this one, but has not yet unraveled the issues and candidates to see who will get his vote.

"It's just way too early," the 28-year-old said. "I feel I don't know where to begin or who to lean toward. I don't see anyone who is willing to compromise ... ."

He is among the 846,000 Latino voters in Illinois who are eligible to vote in the next presidential election, and whose votes could make a great impact in the 2016 presidential election.

Among 13 counties in Southern Illinois, Steve was among the 5,717 Hispanics who cast votes in the 2012 presidential election. In the previous presidential election, in 2008, four of the five registered Latino voters in Illinois turned out to vote, according to the Latino Policy Forum in Chicago.

Hispanics make up 16.7 percent of the state's population of 12,880,580, according to 2014 Census data. The numbers are lower in parts of Southern Illinois. In Carbondale, for instance, they constitute 5.4 percent of the city's population of 26,324 — some 1,421 Hispanics. In Marion, Hispanics are 2.6 percent of city's population of 17,438.

In places like Cobden, Hispanics are 28.61 percent of that city's population of 1,135.

One of the first public-opinion polls this year has a majority of the Latino respondents — 64 percent —questioned saying they would vote for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton if the election was that day; another 27 percent said they would vote for Republican contender and Florida Governor Jeb Bush. The poll was conducted by Bendixen and Amandi International and the Tarrance Group for Univision Noticias.

Some 1,400 registered voters were questioned from June 12 to June 25. Fifty-eight percent of the respondents said they were Democrats, 16 percent Republican and 26 percent Independent.

Needing more information

Some, like the Rev. Uriel Salamanca, priest of the Hispanic Ministry at St. Francis Xavier Church in Carbondale, feels as if he and others need more information about the candidates and their platforms. He said about 200 Hispanic families attend worship services at churches in Carbondale and Cobden.

Salamanca would like to see someone from Southern Illinois University or elsewhere present unbiased information on the candidates to help him and other Latinos make up their minds about whom to vote for, he said.

He said he has fielded many questions and been part of several discussions among local Hispanics about which candidate is best for the Latino community.

"Right now, I don’t know exactly who is the best,” Salamanca said. “I think it’s important to know exactly what they are standing (for) and to know more about it.”

One thing he does not like about the Democrats are their positions on abortion and gay rights, and he said he'd like to see the Republicans propose something good for refugees and other immigrant people.

What is unanimous, he said, is "nobody likes Trump." Presidential candidate Donald Trump has had some of the harshest and strictest comments regarding immigrants, especially illegal immigrants.

As a permanent resident of this country, Salamanca is not eligible to vote. Still, he noted, the vast majority of Hispanics are good people who work hard and contribute much to the economy of this country.

One of his counterparts in Cobden, the Rev. Ernesto Treviño, pastor of that city's Jesus Es El Señor United Methodist Church, said he believes there is no "preferred" candidate for area Latinos.

He wonders, though, if area Latinos might not be drawn to candidates like U.S. senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Marco Rubio (R-Florida), who are both Latino.

But he knows who's going to his vote, he said.

"In my opinion, Bernie Sanders" is his candidate, Treviño said. Treviño said Sanders appears honest and does not appear to have any corruption or scandal in his background.

Immigration reform among top concerns

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Those interviewed discussed several issues of concern to them, such as immigration reform; Obamacare and better, more affordable options for healthcare; employment; educational outreach for Latino students who might be unaware of the higher-education services and options available to them; and a return to and focus on some of the Christian values upon which America was founded.

One person, who asked not to be identified, said Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) legislation is an important issue. That would allow parents of students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status to apply for a worker's permit, which would allow them to work legally; get a driver's license more efficiently; and reduce work discrimination.

This, the person noted, would help to reduce abuse of people who do not get paid for all or any of the hours they've worked or for overtime and allows them compensation for on-the-job injuries they suffer without fearing illegal termination.

Impact also to be made at state-level

In addition to helping decide the next president of this country, Latino voters can also help decide whether its Republican incumbent returns to Washington, D.C., as one of the state's two senators. That race pits U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, a Republican, against several contenders.

The senator's press secretary, Britt Logan, said she could not comment on whether the senator had a strategy for reaching out to the state's Hispanic voters, but noted that he has a long-standing record on Hispanic issues.

Just this past year, he introduced the Military Enlistment Opportunity Act, which provides 'a pathway to citizenship' to "DREAMers" who serve in the U.S. military.

One of the most notable, she said, is his Abuelitas Program (Grandparents Program), which he created as a U.S. representative to expedite the process for grandparents from Mexico to short-term visas to visit their grandchildren and other family here in the United States. In June 2015, Kirk announced plans to expand the Abuelitas Program to Rockford, Joliet and Southern Illinois.

Kirk was a U.S. Representative from Illinois's 10th Congressional District from 2001 until his election to the Senate in 2010.

Kirk faces a challenge from Republican James Marter, a businessman from Oswego, in the March 15 Republican primary. The winner of that race will meet the winner of the Democratic primary: Contenders in that race are Tammy Duckworth, who lost her legs when the helicopter she was co-piloting was hit by enemy fire during the Iraq War; Andrea Zopp, a former president of the Chicago Urban League, who received an endorsement from the Rev. Jesse Jackson on Sunday; and State Sen. Napoleon Harris, a former NFL linebacker. Chris Aguayo is running as a Veterans Party of America candidate.

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A snapshot of Southern Illinois Hispanic voters in 2012 presidential election

Percentage of Southern Illinois Hispanics who voted in 2012 election. Source: My Time To Vote, http://elections.mytimetovote.com/illinois.html

County Total Population Percentage of Hispanic voters Number (of Hispanic voters)
Alexander 8,036 2.0% 161
Franklin 39,627 1.4% 555
Hardin 4,281 1.4% 60
Jackson 60,365 4.3% 2,596
Jefferson 38,713 2.2% 852
Johnson 12,654 3.1% 392
Massac 15,442 2.0% 309
Perty 22,264 2.8% 623
Pope 4,370 1.4% 66
Pulaski 6,046 1.7% 103
Saline 24,981 1.6% 400
Union 17,708 5.1% 903
Williamson 66,622 2.0% 1,332

Reporter

Stephanie Esters is a reporter covering Jackson and Union counties.

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