Electoral Laws Should Strengthen, Not Restrict, Voter Participation

Is it merely a coincidence that states are passing voter identification laws that disproportionately impact Latino voter turnout, at precisely the moment at which the Latino vote is growing more influential?
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Among the results of an election-eve poll conducted by Latino Decisions last month, one finding in particular stands out: of registered Latino voters who did not vote on Election Day, 14 percent reported that they did not currently possess an unexpired form of identification.

While not all states require an ID to vote, there are currently 30 states with voter ID laws that do. In these 30 states, then, eligible Latinos may very well be sitting out elections, uncertain whether they would be able to vote if they made the trip to the polling booths. Research suggests that voter ID laws negatively impact black and Latino turnout, since many eligible voters lack whatever form of identification these state laws mandate. Others, in turn, may sit out elections simply because they fear their identification won't be accepted.

The Hispanic electorate is expanding rapidly and has become increasingly influential in recent electoral cycles. Is it merely a coincidence that states are passing voter identification laws that disproportionately impact Latino voter turnout, at precisely the moment at which the Latino vote is growing more influential? Experts agree that voter-fraud is extremely rare, and that voter identification laws are a solution in need of a problem. Yet rather than woo a rapidly growing Hispanic electorate by embracing Latino policy priorities, some politicians have instead opted to suppress the Hispanic electorate through measures such as voter I.D. laws. These policies are bad for our democracy, and over the long-term they represent bad politics, given that the Hispanic electorate will only continue to grow.

Efforts to restrict voter participation don't stop at requiring valid identification from registered voters. Some states have gone even further than requiring identification at the polling booth, in several instances by passing laws that require individuals to provide proof of citizenship before registering to vote. In the 2006 elections, 16% of all voter registration applications in Maricopa County, Arizona were rejected because the prospective voters did not provide sufficient proof of their citizenship as mandated by a state law passed in 2004. The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona noted at the time that many of these would-be voters, particularly the poor and elderly, would likely have lacked the documents they needed to prove their citizenship and the transportation and resources to get adequate documents. In Kansas, a proof-of-citizenship law designed by Kris Kobach (architect of Arizona's notorious "show me your papers" immigration enforcement law) had suspended the voting powers of around 21,000 registered Kansas voters as of Nov. 7, 2014.

The good news is that both of these proof-of-citizenship laws have since been partially struck down in federal courts. Earlier this month, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that neither Arizona nor Kansas would be allowed to require individuals registering to vote to show proof of citizenship if those individuals applied used a federal voter-registration form. Nevertheless, voter ID laws remain in effect in both states.

When we see that too few Latino voters came out to the polls in these latest elections, our legislators should be working to increase the participation of all eligible voters by passing laws that enable voting by all eligible citizens - regardless of income, age, or race. Consider the case of Colorado, where the 2014 elections were conducted entirely through mail. The numbers show that Colorado's electoral modernization measures resulted in impressive levels of voter participation. It's simple: if electoral law facilitates rather than restricts the voting process for eligible voters, turnout will increase significantly.

The numbers don't lie. Voter fraud is largely nonexistent, while Hispanic voter participation continues to lag behind other groups. Given this state of affairs, laws that restrict the ability of eligible citizens to vote make absolutely no sense. To safeguard a strong representative government, we ought to resist and repeal voter ID measures that disproportionately impact the poor, young, and elderly; onerous proof-of-citizenship requirements that disenfranchise already-registered voters; and any other laws that serve only to weaken democratic participation in the name of a false problem.

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