National Hispanic Heritage Month, a celebration of Hispanic and Latino contributions to American life, ends this week, marred this year by a multi-state campaign that threatens to deprive millions of Hispanic- and Latino-Americans of the right to vote.
Voter ID laws that have sprung up across the country during the last six years are erecting barriers to the ballot box that fall disproportionally on people of color, including Hispanics and Latinos, as well as students and the elderly of every race. While their proponents say the laws will protect against voter fraud, there is no evidence that the only kind of fraud they would impact – voter impersonation – is a problem.
A 2012 study by the Advancement Project found that voter ID laws could disenfranchise 10 million Hispanic voters. U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzalez Ramos agreed when she blocked Texas’ voter ID law last week, calling it discriminatory and an “unconstitutional poll tax.” Texas has the nation’s highest percentage of eligible voters who are Latino (25.6%), and one the strictest voter photo ID laws in the country. Arizona also has a high percentage of Latino voters (19.2%) and has a strict voter ID law. Both states were covered under Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act, so changes in their voting laws were subject to federal review, until the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the law last year
With no federal oversight in place, some states have passed and implemented laws imposing photo ID requirements and rolling back on electoral reforms with proven power to increase turnout, particularly among voters of color. As a recent GAO report found, these photo ID laws will affect turnout – just as legislatures had intended.
Voter suppression, though, is just one threat to American democracy and the Hispanic community. Thousands of families in the U.S. continue to face an uncertain future due to America’s broken immigration system. This is an issue that unites political opposites, Republicans and Democrats, business CEOs and labor leaders. Yet, bipartisan legislation to fix our immigration system has been blocked by filibusters in the U.S. Senate. Filibustering senators also have blocked the DREAM Act, legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for thousands of young immigrants, brought to the U.S. by their parents. Three potential DREAM Act beneficiaries have joined Common Cause in a lawsuit challenging the filibuster rule’s 60-vote requirement for Senate action. Filibuster reform is likely the only path to comprehensive immigration reform pass in the U.S. Congress.
A true democracy can only survive when all citizens are allowed to participate freely and openly. Today, voter suppression, the filibuster, and the dominance of big money in our politics are working to deprive a substantial percentage of the nation’s 54 million Hispanic Americans of their rightful place in our democracy.
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: Voting and Elections