Hundreds of Thousands of Latinos May Be Deterred From Voting

PHOTO: In this Oct. 10, 2012 photo, Frank Nieves, of the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, left, talks to phone bank volunteer Ana Sofia Ballen, of the Hispanics for Obama organization, in Cooper City, Fla. Puerto Ricans and Cubans are the larges

Alan Diaz/AP Photo

More than 219,000 Latinos may be deterred or prevented from casting ballots in the upcoming election, according to a new report by the NALEO Educational Fund.

That's because strict voter identification laws and reduced early-voting opportunities disproportionately impact Latino voters, a demographic set to play a pivotal role in not only the presidential election, but state and local races as well. In addition, more than 835,000 Latino voters may be unable to vote or deterred from voting in the 2013 and 2014 election cycles because of such measures.

"The danger that these state initiatives pose to Latino voter participation and to the success of American governance could expand exponentially in the event of their continued dramatic proliferation across the map," cautions the report.

According to the report, up to 124,000 Latinos stand to be impacted by restrictions to early voting in Florida alone, one of the most critical battleground states in the presidential race. More than 40,000 Latinos stand to be affected by Georgia's voter ID law, with lesser numbers impacted by voter ID laws in Indiana, Kansas, and Tennessee.

Of the 219,000 who may be immediately impacted, NALEO estimates that 95,000 voters lack required government-issued IDs.

The report notes that the estimate of possible impact is conservative, saying, "…the detrimental impact of these restrictions on Latino voters reaches beyond the voters they directly affect. These developments create confusion about election requirements for all voters, which may deter participation. Their enactment is based on erroneous assumptions about alleged voter fraud, which perpetuates misinformation about election policies and fosters anti-Latino and anti-immigrant sentiment."

The NALEO estimate is a drastic reduction from the 10 million that Advancement Project, a voter advocacy organization, said could be impacted. That report had looked at what it deemed as barriers to voting enacted by legislatures and elected leaders in more than 20 states.

Arturo Vargas, executive director of the NALEO Educational Fund, said the NALEO report used different methodology, looking specifically at where voter ID laws are in effect, not just at where they have been proposed or passed, since many are in litigation and may not take effect in the future.

Around 12.2 million Latino voters will cast ballots in 2012, an increase of 26 percent from November 2008, according to NALEO's estimates. But there are some challenges to voting, obstacles that disproportionately impact Latinos. From early voting restrictions in Florida to stringent voter ID requirements in Georgia, voting is not always easy or feasible for Latinos.

At present, the NALEO Educational Fund report says, 33 states either request or mandate that voters display personal identification before casting in-person ballots. Only a handful of these require voters to present a government-issued ID before a person's ballot is counted.

The Brennan Center for Justice notes that presenting specific government-issued ID is disproportionately difficult for Latino voters. Sixteen percent of Latinos lack such identification. The report identifies Georgia, Indiana, Kansas and Tennessee as the states with restrictive voting ID laws where Latinos stand to be impacted the most. In Arizona, which has a somewhat less restrictive ID requirement in place, of the nearly 880,000 Latinos eligible to vote, about 141,000 likely lack a photo ID.

Arizona has been required to accept federal voter registration application forms not accompanied by documentary proof of citizenship after a U.S. Court of Appeals invalidated a proof of citizenship requirement in the state in April 2012. However, the state has done a poor job of making this clear.

"The state continues to require such proof with state-created registration forms, however, and the Secretary of State's webpage on voter registration does not presently explicitly inform voters that they may submit a federal form without proof of citizenship," the report says.

Restrictions on early voting, in Florida for example, are also detrimental to Latinos, according to the report. The Department of Labor reports that Latinos are less able than Americans of other races or ethnicities to vary their work schedule. They are also far more likely to be burdened with childcare responsibilities than non-Latinos. And the Latino vote in Florida is not as dominated by conservative-leaning Cubans as it used to be. More liberal Colombians, Venezuelans and Puerto Ricans have also become key players.

The report also says that, should Texas' voter ID law go into effect in the future, about 700,000 Latinos in the state would be impacted, by far the largest number in any one state. Texas had enacted a voter ID mandate in 2011, but a series of ongoing court challenges has prevented that law from taking effect before the November election.

Numbers show that in-person voter fraud is so rare it's almost nonexistent. Only 2,068 possible incidents of voter fraud have occurred since 2000, during which time 146 million people were registered to vote in the U.S. And of those approximately 2,000 incidents, only 10 involved voter impersonation, the only fraud that might be detected by the implementation of voter ID laws.

Latinos played a pivotal role in helping elect President Obama in 2008, and they stand to influence the 2012 election as well. In addition to the presidential race, Latino voters could help decide the outcome in tight races in Florida and Arizona, among other states, notes a separate report by the NALEO Educational Fund.

Republicans need to be aware of losing votes in states where there is the perception of discrimination against Latinos, warned GOP strategist Ana Navarro.

"I think Arizona should be a wake-up call and an eye opener for the Republican Party," Navarro said. "We must change the tone. It's been ground zero for what seemed like a very hostile anti-immigrant debate."

"If we do lose that Senate seat," she added, "I would say to Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Gov. Jan Brewer, 'You built that.'"

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