San Jose Mercury News (CA)


July 28, 2011
Section: Editorial
Edition: Valley Final
Page: 10A

Maria Teresa Kumar and Hector E. Sanchez   
Voting is fundamental to a healthy democracy, yet bills designed to encumber a citizen's right to vote are being considered in more than 30 states. Claiming to combat mass voter fraud, politicians are advancing bills that would hinder the vote of students, immigrants, rural voters, the elderly, the disabled, low-income voters and Latinos.
A recent report shows that voter ID bills would lower Latino voter turnout by as much as 10 percent. This is an assault on the civic engagement of Latinos -- a growing voting bloc with decisive power. Ninety-one percent of Latino voters are concentrated in 16 major electoral vote states that command 300 of the 538 total electoral votes.

Conservatives are looking to maintain their hold on more than 690 state legislative seats that they gained last November. Their voter ID bills would effectively disenfranchise the 11 percent of U.S. citizens who do not have a current photo ID. For progressive demographic groups, the estimates are even higher: 15 percent of low-income eligible voters and 18 percent of young eligible voters. By imposing measures that a significant segment of the electorate would struggle to meet, they undercut the voting rights of citizens who lean left.

Voters are more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit voter fraud. Under President George W. Bush, the Justice Department's five-year crackdown on voter fraud resulted in 86 convictions out of more than 196 million votes cast.

Voter ID measures would cost taxpayers millions of dollars and burden already-struggling state budgets. The inflated allegations of fraud do not justify blocking millions of citizens from voting.

Who are the forces behind these voter suppression efforts? Often, the culprits and those who advance anti-immigrant legislation are one and the same. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, architect of Arizona's vicious anti-immigrant law, drafted a bill that would require voters to show photo ID at the polls. With the aid of conservative group the American Legislative Exchange Council, this anti-democracy agenda has reached legislatures in at least two states, threatening to mimic the proliferation of Arizona copycat bills.

Voter suppression is not confined to tougher requirements on valid forms of identification. In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a bill that imposes strict constraints on organizations that conduct voter registration drives, requiring them to register with the state in advance and submit voter registration forms within 48 hours or pay a $50 fine per late form (with a maximum fine of $1,000).

Not surprisingly, these efforts target African-Americans, Latinos and voters from families whose first language is Spanish. These historically marginalized groups are more than twice as likely to register to vote at these drives as whites and voters who speak English as their native language.

The assaults on the voting rights of U.S. citizens affect entire communities by diminishing a fundamental element of a democratic society: civic participation. Laws to address the manufactured threat of voter fraud are reminiscent of shameful tactics in our history that disenfranchised millions of African-Americans when poll taxes and literacy tests were used .

At a time when the Latino community faces many challenges to its progress in U.S. society, participating in the electoral process is a step toward social dignity, economic equality, political empowerment and improvement of quality of life for all working families. State voter ID laws suppress the rising role of Latinos in the future of the nation. These laws seek to silence U.S. citizens who provide a voice to vulnerable communities with their vote, and we must fight them.

MARIA TERESA KUMAR is executive director of Voto Latino.
HECTOR E. SANCHEZ is executive director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA). They wrote this for this newspaper.