New State Voting Laws: A Barrier to the Latino Vote?

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Jessica A. González
Elsevier BV
Voting; voting rights; Latino; Hispanic; barriers
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article description
The large and rapidly growing Latino population gains heightened attention as the 2012 Elections approach. Similarly, after 17 states passed legislation to restrict virtually all stages of the voting process, voting rights and these new potential barriers have become hotly debated topics — in and outside of the courtroom. While this sudden surge indicated a collaborative effort nationwide, more aggressive measures were seen in the Southern United States region. More notably, in states where Latino populations have surged in the past decade or where Latinos have a strong presence. Because of the unique demographic and array of recent voter legislation, this commentary specifically focuses on the impact that the laws in Alabama, Florida, Texas, and South Carolina would have on eligible Latino voters in upcoming elections if these laws are allowed to be implemented. This analysis takes into account the social and demographic factors that drive Latinos to be severely underrepresented among the electorate, and looks further to the national impact that these laws could have on the existing low participation rates among Latinos. Lastly, it concludes with policy recommendations to help address these issues at both the state and federal level. Currently, less than half of the Latino population is eligible to vote. Much of that is due to the rapid influx of U.S. born Latino youth that are ineligible to vote, but that ultimately will enter by the thousands to the pool of eligible voters each year. The impact of this underrepresentation is exasperated by the fact that Latino participation rates fall far below any other voting population. Moreover, Latinos live in poverty at a higher rate than any other racial or ethnic group. This finding makes Latinos especially vulnerable to voting laws aimed at restricting practices and/or procedures more often utilized by lowincome voters. As a result, potential barriers that decrease or even maintain current participation rates — as Latino youth become eligible voters — will increase the current representation gap seen among the electorate and will compromise Latino representation in all levels of government.