Judith Browne Dianis is codirector of Advancement Project. Juan Cartagena is president of Latino Justice Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Across the country, Latinos are feeling the blow of a new round of voting laws. Take Veronica Figoli. She came to the United States from Venezuela in 1999 as a student, and has since built a successful career in Colorado. She became a U.S. citizen in 2011 and registered to vote—but this past summer she received a letter saying that she needed to prove her citizenship in order to vote in November.
"No matter what I do, I'll always be a second-class citizen," Figoli said of her feelings on receiving the letter. She was just one of nearly 4,000 Coloradans targeted in a misguided purge of registered voters from the voter rolls based on suspicion of their citizenship status.
The problem with large-scale purge efforts such as Colorado's—and a similar effort in Florida, in which officials sent letters to 2,600 registered voters, warning that they would be purged unless they showed proof of citizenship within 30 days—is that the lists are typically full of mistakes. In Miami Dade, where most of the targeted voters in Florida live, more than 98 percent of 562 people who responded to notice letters proved that they were indeed eligible citizens. The majority of those American citizens were Latino.
A new report from the Advancement Project finds that 23 states have pursued discriminatory voting policies that threaten to undermine the participation of more than 10 million Latino citizens this year. These policies include not only voter purges, but laws that require documentary proof of citizenship to register to vote, and restrictive voter ID laws mandating the presentation of limited forms of government-issued photo identification before a voter can cast a ballot at the polls.
It's no mistake that Latinos are disproportionately affected by such laws. A giant of the American electorate, Latinos comprise more than 10 percent of the nation's eligible voters—and those numbers are growing. In swing states like Florida and New Mexico, Latino citizens are more than 26 percent and 38 percent of eligible voters, respectively.
Cutting down on this potent voting power, 16 states are pursing purges of their voting rolls using inaccurate immigration data that targets naturalized citizens—the majority of whom are voters of color. These are also people who worked hard to take their oath of citizenship, seeking democracy and freedom, but are now being told to show their papers before they can vote.
Extremely strict forms of photo ID in nine states, including Pennsylvania, also disparately impact Latinos. Nationwide, 16 percent of Latinos do not have the government-issued ID currently required (such as a driver's license or U.S. passport) to vote in these states. Add in the fact that for stateside Puerto Ricans, the second largest group of Latinos in the country, Puerto Rico invalidated all birth certificates issued before 2010, making it doubly hard for them to secure the paperwork necessary to prove citizenship in time for the elections.
In many of the states with laws that disproportionately restrict Latino voting rights, the number of eligible Latino citizens have the power to swing elections. In Florida, eligible Latino voters amount to nine times the margin of victory in the 2008 presidential election, and in Colorado, they are twice the 2008 margin of victory.
Not only do these policies make it harder for eligible Latino citizens to vote, but they threaten to relegate eligible Latino voters to second-class citizenship in which they must jump through more hoops to vote. They are ordered to "show their papers," and intimidated with letters threatening to remove them from the rolls. This runs counter to the core American values of equality and freedom.
To ensure that access to the ballot box is open to all eligible voters, the policies described in Advancement Project's report must be repealed, with Justice Department prosecutions for any violations. It is the duty of election officials to provide free, fair, and accessible elections to every American citizen, no matter their race, and no matter where they were born. Voting is the most fundamental of all of our rights, so these measures must be stopped now to preserve our democracy. The election is only five weeks away, and America deserves better.