Nearly half of the country’s 23 million eligible Latino voters may not be able to cast a ballot on Nov. 6, a result of restrictive voter laws. In a presidential race that remains—43 days from Election Day—nearly tied, even a fraction of that sum could swing the election.
A report out Monday by the Advancement Project, a nonpartisan civil-rights organization, finds 10 million Hispanic voters could be “deterred or prevented from voting” due to laws in 23 states that “disproportionately impact voter registration and participation by Latino citizens.” These include crucial swing states such as Florida and Pennsylvania.
“There is an unprecedented wave of voting laws attacking voters of color,” Katherine Culliton-González, the director of Voter Protection for the Advancement Project, told The Daily Beast. “This is the first time since Dred Scott and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that we have allowed naturalized citizens to be treated like this.”
While recent media attention has been focused mainly on alleged suppression of the African-American vote due to restrictions on early voting and third-party voter registration, a new focus on Hispanic disenfranchisement shows just how widespread the problem could be for all minority voters, Culliton-González says.
Hispanics make up 10 percent of the nation’s eligible voters. In Florida, the state that so infamously decided the 2000 presidential race, that factor nearly triples, the report found, with Latinos comprising 26 percent of the state’s voting population. The report found that eligible Latino voters in Florida “amount to nine times the 2008 margin of victory” of Obama over McCain, “and unregistered Latinos constitute four times that margin of victory.”
In Pennsylvania, where the state’s law requiring voters to have photo identification is still being debated in court, tens of thousands of Latinos could have trouble obtaining proper ID, says Culliton-González.
Puerto Ricans in Pennsylvania may have the most difficulty voting if the photo ID law is upheld, because 120,000 Puerto Rican immigrants have had their birth certificates invalidated and will not have time to get them renewed before Election Day.
The report’s dramatic findings come at a conspicuous moment for Latino voters, with the Obama and Romney campaigns courting them with Spanish-language television ads, back-to-back Univision appearances, and rallies in heavily Latino states and counties.
Both candidates have fumbled with Hispanics in recent weeks. Buried under the outrage over Romney’s now-infamous “47 percent” comments from a leaked fundraiser video was Romney’s line that if his father had “been born of Mexican parents, I’d have a better shot of winning this.”
Also last week, some Hispanic groups attacked the Obama administration’s decision to withhold the benefits of the Affordable Care Act from young immigrants saved from deportation.
Culliton-González puts some of blame for the potential suppression of Hispanic voters on the Republican Party, which has advanced restrictive voting laws, particularly photo ID laws. “Having a platform that would disenfranchise voters of color isn’t the way to ensure their support. I haven’t seen that on the Democratic platform,” she told The Daily Beast.
Clarissa Martínez, the director of Civic Engagement for the National Council of La Raza, a nonpartisan Hispanic advocacy group, says Republicans’ unpopularity with Hispanic voters is part of a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” Republican policies, particularly on voting laws and voter registration, “actively antagonize the Hispanic community,” she said.
But Republican National Convention spokesman Alex Fraceschi says, “Hispanics, like all Americans, believe the integrity of our democracy must be protected. Implementing common sense reforms at the ballot box ensures the fairness of our elections, thus protecting the legitimacy of our electoral system.”
The potentially massive disenfranchisement of Hispanics could come from so-called voter purges in 16 states, proof-of-citizenship requirements in three states, and photo identification laws in nine states, the Advancement Project found. Hybrids of these laws in dozens of states from Georgia to Indiana could “impose onerous and sometimes expensive documentation requirements and similarly impose costs in time and money for millions of Latino citizens who do not have the required documents,” the report found. A patchwork of photo-ID laws in particular across the country could force Hispanic voters to drive hundreds of miles to obtain proper identification, Culliton-González says.
Voting restrictions have faced major legal challenges recently. Thousands of voters erroneously removed from the rolls have access to the ballot box again in Florida, and Ohio’s “right church, wrong pew” rule, which stipulates that provisional votes mistakenly cast in the wrong precinct can be discounted, has been blocked by a judge. Culliton-González says the overturning of Texas’s photo-ID law was “the biggest victory” so far for Hispanic voters, but says there’s still a long way to go. And she dismissed the idea that restrictive voting laws are necessary to protect against voter fraud. “The problem is infinitesimal,” she said. “It does not justify this kind of intimidation.”