Both mainstream parties are angling for the “Latino vote” in the 2012 election, deploying various public-relations strategies to charm this fast-growing section of the electorate. And yet the Latino vote itself might be undermined by nefarious restrictions on access to the ballot. The creative video above, by the advocacy network Cuéntame, illustrates how, for all the efforts to recruit voters of color, lawmakers are simultaneously sharpening the racial barriers in the voting system.
When we discuss third-rail electoral issues like immigration reform, it’s important to step back and take a look around at who’s doing the talking. Again and again, we have a conservative-dominated political establishment imposing ideological model legislation on issues primarily affecting the poor, people of color, immigrants and other marginalized groups. The American Legislative Exchange Council and other right-wing think tanks have shaped a range of state-level measures, including anti-immigrant law enforcement tactics, prison privatization, and pro-corporate policies on workers’ rights.
But the holy grail of conservative hegemony is the ability to control the democratic process itself. The voter ID laws that have mushroomed around the country speak seem poised to do precisely that, betraying the sad reality that all the apparent pandering to Latino voters masks efforts to limit voting rights for the most disenfranchised and marginalized communities.
There’s a general sense among civil-rights groups of a sudden wave of legislation threatening to suppress voting rights of Latinos, blacks, students, low-income voters, and those with disabilities ahead of the presidential elections. Eleven states have passed laws that would require voters to show some type of identification since 2001, according to an analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, a nonpartisan public-policy institute. Four of those states—New Hampshire, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—clearly are political battlegrounds. The Texas law has been deemed the strictest so far.
…Texas is one of 16 states that require the preclearance of the federal government before changing its voter laws because of its voting discrimination in the past.
“This bill was passed under immigration and racial tensions … and it had little to do with rejecting voter fraud,” said Luis Figueroa, legislative staff attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. But the state is quick to highlight that Latino and black elected officials, including five Latinos and two blacks, voted for S.B. 14 to discredit those charges.
And just to make it crystal clear that the law fits snugly with the prevailing ultra-right policy agenda, the Texas law gives a pass to the state’s licensed gun owners.
Though the controversy over voter ID laws evokes memories of poll taxes and Jim Crow, Latino immigrants and their families are especially at risk because many members of these communities are legally and explicitly barred from the polls, because they are non-citizens. Attacking the voting rights of Latino citizens is another pernicious assault on an already underrepresented population. With or without citizenship, some voices are simply not welcome in our peculiar kind of democracy. Not until we start reclaiming the democratic process by building power in our communities.