Could New Voter ID Laws Really Disenfranchise 10 Million Latinos?

PHOTO: This photo taken Sept. 21, 2012, shows Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler leaving his office in Denver.

Ed Andrieski/AP Photo

Millions of Latinos may have a difficult time voting this year.

New laws that require voters show proof of citizenship and photo identification at the polls -- as well as recent voter roll purges -- could hinder at least 10 million Hispanics in 23 states who try to cast a ballot in November. The number of Latinos eligible to vote who might be blocked from voting this year is equal to the margin of victory in a number of states, according to a new study by the Advancement Project, a civil rights group.

Overall, 17 states have enacted laws that would require voters to present photo identification at the polls before casting a ballot. Propoents have said the laws are needed to combat voter fraud, but civil-rights activists have countered that the laws are a political ploy on behalf of Republicans to limit turnout from minority voters who traditionally favor Democrats.

Lawsuits that challenge voter ID laws on the basis of racial discrimination in states such as Pennsylvania and South Carolina are currently pending in court.

Katherine Culliton-González, an author of the Advancement Project study and an opponent of voter ID laws, says those backing voter ID laws and voter roll purges back the laws "for their own partisan gain."

A record 12.2 million of Latino voters are expected to vote in Novemberand President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney have campaign heavily to woo Latinos. But close to 23 million Latinos are eligible to vote and experts wonder whether higher turnout could change the electoral map.

Unregistered Latino voters could even swing some red states blue. According to the liberal Center for American Progress, 10 battleground states have a combined 12.1 million eligible but unregistered Latino voters and possibly-eligible Latino voters — green card holders who are eligible to become citizens and vote for the first time in November. In Florida, that number is 1.4 million — five times Obama's margin of victory in 2008.

But according to the Advancement Project report, casting a vote is difficult for many Latinos.

"Like African Americans, Latinos have experienced decreased access and correspondingly lower levels of voter registration and participation than non-Hispanic whites," reads the Advacment Project's report.

There were more than 21 million Hispanics of voting age in the country in 2010, according to the study, about 10 percent of all eligible voters and about eight percent of registered voters.

According to the report, however, 6.3 million eligible Hispanic voters said they were not registered to vote, and 10.8 million said they did not vote. In other words, nearly half of voter age Hispanics did not vote. By comparison, only 38 percent of non-Hispanic white citizens of voting age did not cast ballots.

Latinos already vote at a lower rate than their non-Latino peers, and Culliton-González says such laws make Hispanics nervous to cast ballots. She added that voter registration among Latinos is down from 2008. While Culliton-González cites voter ID laws and purges as a potential reason, the voting age population was also more excited to vote in 2008 in general, which may contribute to the lower numbers.

"Politics aren't important," she said. "What's important is voting."

She suggests making voter information available in Spanish, recruiting poll workers at naturalization ceremonies, and extending early voting periods and late-night voting options.

The report flags three barriers to Hispanic voter participation, specifically citizenship-based voter purges, proof of citizenship requirements, and photo identification laws.

It also identifies sixteen states that have either adopted or are pushing for citizenship-based voter purges. Those states include Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Washington.

While some of the states with the largest Latino populations are not on that list -- California and New York, for example -- nearly 5.5 million registered Latino voters, and 1.1 million naturalized citizens from Latin America, live in those states, according to the report.

And the report indicates that the process some states use to purge voter rolls is prone to error. In Colorado and Florida, for example, the report says the states identified voters for possible purging by comparing their voter registrations with driver's license databases that show which voters identified as immigrants.

But naturalized citizens often receive driver's licenses as legal immigrants before becoming citizens, and thus before registering to vote, meaning the lists of voters to be checked could include naturalized citizens, according to the report. Florida stopped using the system once officials realized the database was outdated.

Laws requiring documents such as a birth certificate or a passport to register to vote are in effect in several states, including Georgia, and a number of states have attempted to pass laws requiring photo identification to cast a ballot.

A law in Pennsylvania was recently returned to a lower court, while South Carolina is currently hearing a similar photo ID case.

Proponents of such laws say they prevent voter fraud, but instances of in-person voter fraud, which the photo ID requirement is designed to prevent, are quite rare.

There are more than 13 million voters in Texas and only 50 cases of voter fraud, according to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbot, who backs such laws. Texas' law was recently shot down in court -- and few of them involved in-person fraud.

Judges in Missouri and Wisconsin have sided with opponents of the voter ID laws, but there are a number of states where voter ID laws are still pending.

According to the study, purges, registration barriers and photo ID restrictions could impact more Latino citizens than made up the margin of victory in the 2008 presidential election in some states.

"In Colorado, Florida, and Virginia, the number of eligible Latino citizens that could be affected by these barriers exceeds the margin of victory in each of those states during the 2008 presidential election. In Florida, eligible Latino voters amount to nine times the 2008 margin of victory, and unregistered Latinos constitute four times the margin of victory," reads the study.

Getting an ID can also be prohibitively time consuming and expensive, a report by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School notes.

More than 500,000 eligible Latino voters live more than 10 miles from the nearest ID-issuing center that is open more than two days per week, according to the report. Many Latinos hold jobs with inflexible hours, making it impossible to travel to the offices when they're open. And while the IDs themselves are free, obtaining the documentation needed to get one can be expensive.

"Latinos also have one of the highest percentages of poverty of any racial or ethnic group in the United States and are more likely to rely on public transportation, and thus face more difficulty procuring the necessary documentation," reads the report.

And there are bigger problems with voting than registration. From confusing ballots to long polling lines, states from Ohio to New York have set up commissions and studies to figure out how to fix the voting process. The problem, however, is that few of the suggestions have been implemented as a result of partisan bickering and the potential costs of fixing the system.

A recent article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram indicates that the names of around 77,000 Texans appeared on a statewide list suggesting they might be dead and should be removed form voter rolls. The problem? Many were still alive.

And according to the report, "Confusion about proof of citizenship requirements resulted in voters being turned away during Michigan's August 2012 primary elections. After Governor Rick Snyder vetoed legislation that would have required voters to confirm citizenship at the polls, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson added a citizenship confirmation checkbox to ballot applications for the state's August 7, 2012 primary, and some voters were reportedly denied the right to vote for failing to fill out the box."

Michael Waldman, president of the left-leaning Brennan Center, has suggested that states use digital technology to streamline and reduce the costs of registering voters in an accurate way, but there hasn't been much effort by cash-strapped states to implement such technology.

The result is that there is still significant room for error in the upcoming election.

For more information about voter ID laws, go here: - Court rejects Texas voter ID law: It would "impose strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor." - Voter ID laws make voting harder for many Latinos - How the U.S. voting system is preventing people from … voting - No ID? No vote in these 10 states

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