by Colleen Flaherty
Evidence is mounting that the restrictive new voting laws erected in 23 states this year disproportionately affect minorities and students. A recent study by the Advancement Project shows these voting registration laws pose the greatest threat to Latinos.
According to the study, “these new laws could deter or prevent more than 10 million Latino citizens from registering and voting in the 2012 election.”
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Lucia Baez is a Florida teacher working to educate voters in her state, where Latinos make up 26 percent of eligible voters, which is nine times the 2008 margin of victory.
“Hispanics possess much power in determining the future of this country through their vote, which explains why voter suppression has been so rampant in Florida,” Baez told Education Votes.
Florida, along with 15 other states, has conducted voter purges of registered voters that are meant to keep noncitizens off the voting roll. Instead, the purges have singled out naturalized citizens who are eligible to vote.
In April, Florida’s voter purge found 2,600 possible ineligible voters, 82 percent of whom were Latino, black or Asian American. In Miami-Dade County, where most of the targeted voters live, more than 98 percent of the people who responded to notice letters were eligible U.S. citizens mistakenly placed on the purge list.
Once someone has been placed on a voter purge list, a notice is sent and the person has to prove his or her eligibility to vote within 30 days. In Florida, according to the Advancement Project study, a person on the list may have to spend as much as $650 to obtain the paperwork for voter eligibility and collect their parents’ and their personal birth certificate.
Baez said that even Latinos who haven’t been singled out by these purges are confused about the new legislation and whether or not they’re able to vote. As a result, even those who are eligible to vote may stay home.
“I am sure it is hard for citizens, especially those who may not dominate the language, to exercise their vote.”
Despite the push for these laws being based on preventing voter fraud, there is little evidence of noncitizens casting ballots. According to a News21 investigation, there have only been ten cases of alleged in-person voter impersonation for every 15 million potential voters nationally.
“The rate of voter fraud is infinitesimal, and in-person voter impersonation on election day, which prompted 23 state legislatures to enact or consider tough voter ID laws, is virtually non-existent,” according to the investigation.
Other states have imposed restrictive photo ID laws and proof of citizenship requirements, which impose costs in time and money for many Latinos who don’t have the required documents.
“Latinos 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 in procuring the necessary documentation,” according to the Advancement Project. Moreover, a significant number of Latinos have work hours that do not allow them to obtain the necessary documents from government offices.
The most important thing now is educating and reaching out to voters, said Baez. “Not just every four years when politicians decide Hispanics are important, but to educate Hispanics in how to exercise their power to effect change in their communities all the time.”