Voting PictureRichard B. Levine/Newscom 

Block the Vote Efforts Leading up to 2012 Elections

Written by Amanda Savasky
Introduction

Less voter participation generally leads to a Republican win. It is no surprise then that Republicans have supported various efforts to restrict the voting capacity of certain groups of people throughout our country’s history. Those who did not own land, women, and African Americans were not simply ‘given’ the right to vote upon the founding of this country. Instead, they were forced to fight for this fundamental right of our democratic nation. Though in 1870 the 15th Amendment declared that no citizen would be denied the right to vote on account of race or color, it was not until 50 years later that women were included in these protections, and was not until 15 years after that, that restrictions to voter registration and additional protections for minority populationswere addressed in the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Our country bares a long history of votes being restricted by the same small group of people in power who have attempted to keep voter participation subdued in order to sustain their own positions. We are currently seeing a strong effort to limit voter participation—especially since the last presidential elections. In 2008, the U.S. experienced a record increase in voter participation in which youth and minority populations were particularly represented. For example, between 2004 and 2008 there was an almost 30% increase of active Latino voters. Such a large increase in just four years and sustained participation in the 2010 midterm elections indicates a positive trend that we can count on increasing in the upcoming November elections.

This increase in voter participation is a crucial component to our country’s social and political conversation, indicating that more voices are joining the debates that will help shape our future. But this recent increase in participation certainly has not come without opposition. As we have experienced in the past, restrictions to voter rights are being proposed and enforced, which are disproportionately affecting minority populations. In 2011, states across the country proposed legislation seeking to limit people’s ability to register and to cast votes in an attempt to reduce voter participation, therefore making a Republican win more likely. While such legislature is harmful for all minority groups, this article examines the context and consequences specifically for the Latino population.

Increases in Latin@ population and Latin@ voter participation

In the past decade our country has experienced a large increase in minority populations, which has subsequently been reflected in the amount of voter participation by these groups. A report by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) reveals that from 2000 to 2010 the Latino population in the U.S. grew 43%. This increase means Latinos now comprise 16% of the total U.S. population (NAACP).

Not only have we experienced this large increase in the size of the Latino population, but we have also seen a change in some forms of political involvement by Latinos. The 2008 elections illustrated an unprecedented increase in participation among minority groups and young people. While only 63.6% of all eligible voters actually voted in the 2008 Presidential Elections, 12.1% identified as African American, and 7.4% identified as Latino (Pew). This 7.4% of Latino voters marks a 28.4% increase since the 2004 elections (NAACP).  Though the White population comprises a disproportionate amount of voters, the gap between White, African American, and Latino voters is in fact decreasing. Such changes mark an important shift in our country’s current situation. Through these increases in voter participation it is becoming clear that new voices are insisting on being part of the discussion.

New laws and regulations

In response to this shift, we have seen numerous efforts to restrict such expansion. Legislature has been proposed (and has already been passed in 14 states) placing restrictions on everything from voter registration activities, to early and absentee voting periods, to photo identification documents. Multiple states have passed laws decreasing the amount of time available for same-day voter registration in the weeks prior to and on Election Day itself. Other laws have come into effect that restrict registration drives and third party voter registration activities (Weiser, Moreno). Various states have passed legislature requiring photo identification to be presented when voting. Additional restrictions have been placed on people with past felony convictions, making it more difficult for them to regain their voting rights after having served their sentence (Weiser). 

Restrictive Voting Measures Enacted in 2011

Forms of Restrictions   States Enacting Such Measures   Total  
Barriers to Registration:   
Restriction on Third-Party Registration   Florida; Texas 2
Restrictions on When and Where
Individuals Can Register 
Florida; Maine; Ohio; Wisconsin   4
Documentary Proof of Citizenship  Alabama; Kansas; Tennessee  3
Durational Residency Requirements  Wisconsin  1
Enhanced Felon Disfranchisment Laws  Florida; Iowa  2
Restrictions on Early or
Absentee Voting
  
Florida; Georgia; Maine;
Tennessee; West Virgina  
5
Photo ID Laws   Alabama; Kansas; Mississippi;
Rhode Island; South Carolina; Tennessee; Texas; Wisconsin  
8
Total measures enacted in  2011  25
NAACP ReportDefending Democracy - Confronting modern barriers to voting rights in America

Effects of new legislation on Latin@ population

While those who are proposing this new legislation do not believe that it targets particular groups, the laws are in fact discriminatory. The most prominent way that the regulations discussed above disproportionately affect Latinos is on an economic level. Principally, documents like identification cards and birth certificates cost money to obtain. The Latino population already experiences multiple barriers to obtaining economic equality compared with non-Latinos. With economic challenges frequently present, the cost of buying documents such as ID cards, or missing hours from work to go and vote midweek deters a large number of people from voting. Currently, 16% of eligible Latino voters do not own government issued photo IDs and would be prevented from casting a ballot if they were not able to purchase such IDs. Additionally, restricting voter registration activities and reducing early voting periods places a disproportionate challenge on minority groups who rely on early voting days, and who are most commonly registered to vote through voting drives. For example, in 2008 15% of Latinos were registered through voter registration drives in Florida alone, as compared to only 6% of Whites (NAACP). 

amandaSupporters of the new legislation

Prior to 2011, only two states had voting regulations comparable to those just discussed. Now within just the past year, this number has more than quadrupled. Such a quick shift in attitudes towards voting ‘security’ is an important aspect to keep in mind in this discussion, and brings me to the following examination regarding who is supporting this new legislation.

With the 2008 elections’ increase in voter participation and the subsequent election of a Democrat, many Republicans began backing legislature that sought to restrict the voting capacity of those likely to support Democratic candidates. Although there is “no evidence of meaningful levels of fraud” within our elections, Republicans have been hiding under claims of ‘fighting voter fraud’ in their creation and support of the recent bills (Savage). It is worrisome that these restrictions are being promoted under the discourse of protecting voter fraud when this is simply not the case.

In addition to the Republican Party, other groups are big supporters of the legislature as are certain individuals. Take for example the Koch brothers who have been important (financial) supporters of the recent bills. Through their corporations, the Koch brothers contribute millions of dollars to conservative organizations like ALEC—the American Legislative Exchange Council, which was a main source in the creation of voter ID laws. (In early April 2012, ALEC declared it would drop its support for such laws after coming under intense scrutiny by various organizations) (Democracy Now). Additionally, the Koch brothers have contributed over $245,000 to politicians who support the laws (politicians such as Gov. Scott Walker–WI , Gov. Sam Brownback–KA, and Gov. Rick Perry–TX). As the report Koch Brothers Exposed explains, “the Koch brothers are behind these kinds of laws because they want to cut off the participation of people who are not behind their corporate agenda” (Greenwald). The New York Times also states that “the measures are a veiled effort to suppress participation by hundreds of thousands of eligible voters (Savage).

Amanda 4

The statistics discussed earlier illustrate a clear correlation between the increased amount of minority voter participation and the multitude of new laws seeking to make registering and voting more difficult. The legislation has been created in a way that disproportionately affects those who are already marginalized. Republicans are concerned with the security of their positions, and have begun drastic measures in an effort to maintain them. But with a strength and determination that comes from a long struggle to gain voting rights, Latinos and other minority groups will continue to involve themselves in the political conversation, illustrating their significant position in shaping our future. 

Will your voice be part of the conversation? 

REGISTER TO VOTE here!  



Works Cited

Democracy Now. “Wave of Restrictive Voting Laws Prompts Federal Probes, Grassroots Activism Ahead of 2012 Elections.” 15 Dec. 2011. Electronic. http://www.democracynow.org/2011/12/15/wave_of_restrictive_voting_laws_prompts

Greenwald, Robert. Are the Koch Brothers Denying your Vote? Brave New Films. 3 Nov. 2011. Film. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=dwOTm3ShQh0

Moreno, Mary. “Restrictive Voting Laws Threaten to Disenfranchise Millions.” Huffington Post: Latino Politics. 1 Dec. 2011. Electronic. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/voto-latino/restrictive-voting-laws-t_b_1120878.html

NAACP. “Defending Democracy: Confronting modern barriers to voting rights in America.” NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. 20 Feb. 2012. Print.

Pew Hispanic Center. “2008 National survey of Latinos: Hispanic voter attitudes.” Mark Hugo Lopez and Susan Minushkin. 24 July 2008. Electronic. 20 Feb. 2012. http://www.pewhispanic.org/2008/07/24/2008-national-survey-of-latinos-hispanic-voter-attitudes/

Savage, Charlie. “Holder Signals Tough Review of New State Laws on Voting.” New York Times. 13 Dec. 2011. Electronic. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/14/us/politics/in-speech-holder-to-critique-new-voting-laws.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

Weiser, Wendy R. and Lawrence Norden. “Voting Law Changes in 2012.” Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. 2011. Electronic. March 3 2012.