A surge in new laws restricting voting could deter millions of Hispanics from showing up on Election Day, according to a new analysis.
The study, to be released on Monday by the civil rights group Advancement Project, determines that new voting laws, combined with efforts to strike ineligible names from state voting rolls, could drastically diminish voter turnout in the Latino community.
That could decisively change the outcome of the election. While Latinos still make up a relatively small share of the electorate, their rapidly growing numbers -- Hispanic-Americans are the fastest-growing demographic in the country -- makes their turnout crucial in several states, like Colorado, where their numbers are high. And because polls show Latino voters overwhelmingly supporting President Obama, new voting restrictions could ultimately help Mitt Romney.
A partisan battle over new voting laws has been unfolding across the country for months now, as mostly Republican-controlled state legislatures and governors push measures to tighten access to the polls. Proponents of these measures say they are rooting out fraud, but opponents charge that the new laws disproportionately affect constituencies, like low-income, elderly and minority voters, that tend to skew towards Democrats.
The Advancement Project study looks at how Latino voters are affected and suggests that the hurdles new laws require may keep people from voting. Several states have instituted measures requiring voters to present proof of citizenship or obtain government-sanctioned photo identification, for instance.
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“It has the impact of scaring people and reminding them of [immigration] raids and other kinds of law enforcement that have been targeted toward these communities,” Penda D. Hair, a co-director of the Advancement Project, told the Washington Post.
Other states -- 16, to be exact -- have pushed to purge their voting rolls of non-citizens who have improperly registered to vote. Such efforts can cause naturalized citizens to be struck from the rolls despite being eligible to vote, the Advancement Project study found.
Florida offers a telling example. Governor Rick Scott, a Republican, announced earlier this summer an initiative to cleanse the rolls of non-citizens. But county supervisors who acted on a list of ineligible voters provided by the state found a litany of inaccuracies due to outdated information and bureaucratic mistakes. Many of the supposedly inelegible voters had become citizens, for instance.
Many supervisors refused to proceed, but the effort has continued now that Florida has gained access to a more accurate federal database. But many of these new voting laws are still entangled in legal disputes. In Pennsylvania, where a Republican lawmaker spurred outrage after saying a new law requiring photo ID would "allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania," the state Supreme Court recently asked a lower court to strike down the voter ID law if it found evidence that voters would be disenfranchised.
The Department of Justice has sought to intervene in other states, seeking proof that new laws do not violate the Voting Rights Act's safeguards against disenfranchisement. South Carolina is offering closing arguments to defend its new law on Monday.