Waking the Giant: Making the Latino Vote Count in 2008
by Project Vote, Thu Jul 10, 2008 at 10:51:22 AM EDT
Cross-posted at Project Vote's blog, Voting Matters
Weekly Voting Rights News Update
By Erin Ferns and Nathan Henderson-James
Massive voter registration drives, recent passionate immigration debates, and the contested presidential primaries are finally bringing one of the nation's fastest growing populations into the democratic process, despite decades of low voter participation rates and recent voting rights attacks based on anti-immigrant rhetoric. Recognizing their rapidly increasing voting power - which is catching up with their "raw demographic power,"
particularly in the closely contested states of Florida, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada - both presidential candidates are actively pursuing Latino voters. However, advocates caution a powerful lesson must be learned from voter suppression schemes executed in recent elections in order to ensure this former "sleeping giant" of electoral participation will have access to the polls in November, and most importantly, have their votes counted.
Latinos have long been noted as the "sleeping giant" of elections in the United States because they turn out to vote in numbers far below their percentage of the voting-eligible population. For example, in 2006, Latinos made up nine percent of the voting eligible population in the United States, but only six percent of the voters, according to Representational Bias, Project Vote's 2007 analysis of the 2006 electorate. In contrast, Blacks, who make up roughly the same amount of the overall population in the U.S. as Latinos, account for 12 percent of the voting-eligible population, and 10 percent of the voters.
One reason for the lag in voter participation among Latinos is their very low voter registration rate. Only 54 percent of voting-eligible Latinos are registered to vote, compared to 61 percent of Blacks and 71 percent of Whites. Further, Latinos did not turnout at rates similar to Blacks or Whites. In 2006, 60 percent of registered Latinos voted, compared with 67 percent of Blacks and 73 percent of Whites. Overall this means that just 32 percent of the Latino voting-eligible population cast a ballot in 2006 compared with 41 percent of Blacks and 52 percent of Whites. If Latino voter turnout had matched their percentage of the voting-eligible population in 2006, an additional 2.6 million Latino voters would have gone to the polls.
The Asheville Citizen-Times echoes these statistics in a story this week. They note that Latino population growth outpaces their representation in the electorate for multiple reasons including low rates of naturalization and voter registration. However, they also report a projection from the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute at the University of Southern California that projects Latino turnout of 9.3 million in November. This would be an astounding 18 percentage point increase over participation in 2006 and would represent voting by roughly half the Latino voting-eligible population, a mark this population group has never met.
This projection underscores the kind of impact Latinos could have if they were to participate at rates similar to other large population groups. Partisans and those who prefer an electorate that makes predicting turnout as easy as looking at who voted the last time and simply assuming much the same will happen again have a vested interest in ensuring that the sleeping giant never awakes.
Sometimes this insurance takes the form of coordinated voter suppression schemes. For example, in the 2004 presidential election, Latino voters in the battleground state of Ohio were the victims of a partisan voter disenfranchisement scheme, according Richard Hayes of online news magazine, AlterNet. In an excerpt from his new book on the subject, Hayes reports voters experienced a number of irregularities, including receipt of ballots already spoiled and marked for a third-party candidate and incorrect distribution of voting machines, causing the votes to be shifted to the incorrect candidate depending on the precinct the machine had been intended to be placed in.
However, the most sinister finding of his research indicates specific and direct attempts to suppress the Latino vote. "And we have powerful evidence that Latino voters in Cleveland were intimidated into leaving the polling place without ever receiving a ballot at all," Hayes wrote.
After finding it suspicious that turnout was so low in a "hotly contested presidential election in the foremost battleground state," Hayes examined the initial explanation given by the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections. The election board claimed a lack of Spanish-speaking Cleveland poll workers and a high number of Latino voters lead to Spanish-speakers' ballots being rejected because they could not adequately read the ballot in order to enter their punch cards correctly.
The explanation is not true, according to Hayes who said official results indicate that no more than three ballots were rejected at the three precincts within the Cleveland polling place in question. A more likely explanation would be that a number of voters at the "overwhelmingly Democratic precincts" were intimidated by challengers at the polls before signing in or receiving a ballot, he wrote.
Recent voter suppression attempts have gone beyond dirty tricks and entered the realm of law. Attempting to institutionalize voter suppression based on anti-immigrant rhetoric, state and federal legislators have introduced retrograde proposals to amend the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and require proof of citizenship when registering to vote. Most recently, U.S. Representative Dean Heller introduced a bill to repeal the VRA provision that requires counties to provide bilingual ballots if more than five percent of the voting age population is non-English speaking. The bill, H.R. 5971 was last referred to the Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. Proof of citizenship requirements at registration - a measure that would affect millions of Americans who do not have proper documentation - is currently implemented in one state, Arizona. However, five states have similar legislation pending (Calif., Ill., Mass., Mich., and N.Y.). To monitor some of these bills, visit www.electionlegislation.org.
Democracy is stronger when everyone participates and both legislators and election officials should put more emphasis on creating access to the polls, not barriers. This election cycle shows all signs of being precedent setting in terms of increases in civic engagement and electoral participation. As Hayes wrote, "all eligible voters should be allowed to vote without interference, for the candidates of their choice, and have their votes counted as cast."
In Other News:
Florida Felons May Not Be Aware Of Restored Voting Rights - Capitol News Service
TALLAHASSEE - More than 150,000 former felons in Florida are eligible to cast ballots in this year's elections, but most of them may not even know their rights have been restored, according to state parole commission officials.
Reed Outspoken on Veterans' Voting Rights - KNDO/KNDU [Wash.]
KENNEWICK, Wash.- Voter registration is becoming a controversial issue, especially in the veteran's community.
Erin Ferns is a Research and Policy Analyst with Project Vote's Strategic Writing and Research Department (SWORD).
Tags: 2004 presidential election, 2008 Presidential election, Colorado, election integrity, Florida, immigration, Latinos, New Mexico, Ohio, Project Vote, voter participation, voter registration, voter suppression, Voting Rights (all tags)