September 24, 2012; Source: Fox News Latino

Millions of registered U.S. citizens who happen to be Latino might be in danger of being denied the right to vote this year because of voter ID laws in effect in 23 states and counting. Sixteen states are engaged in citizenship-related efforts to purge the rolls of what they deem to be inappropriately registered voters. There are 5.5 million registered Latino citizens and 1.1 million naturalized citizens in those 16 states. According to a report from the Advancement Project, some of those states are doing their purges by comparing voter registrations with driver’s license databases. The problem for Latino naturalized citizens is that their driver’s licenses might show that they obtained the licenses—perfectly legally—before they were citizens and before registering to vote. That might give these states license, so to speak, to question these legally registered voters and demand additional information that other citizens (those who were born here) aren’t asked to produce.

In American elections, voter turnout and participation by Latinos is unfortunately lower than for other groups. According to the Associated Press, more than half of the 21 million Latinos of voting age in the U.S. did not vote in 2010 and 6.3 million were not registered to vote. In comparison, only 38 percent of non-Hispanic whites didn’t vote, and while 30 percent of Latinos weren’t registered to vote in 2010, only about 18 percent of non-Hispanic whites weren’t registered. The Advancement Project contends that the voter ID requirements and the purges will potentially impact Latino voters disproportionately and inappropriately. When a purportedly benign policy disproportionately impacts a specific racial or ethnic group without good reason, the policy should be considered illegal under the Voting Rights Act (the basis for a voter ID-related lawsuit in Florida, as well as suits in Pennsylvania and South Carolina).

In the case of voter ID laws, states are imposing requirements to solve a voter impersonation problem that barely exists and doesn’t really warrant this kind of legislative response. The NPQ Newswire reported on a Louisiana investigation that found zero cases of voter impersonation, and that’s in a state that is hardly known for clean elections (sorry, Louisianans). There are other issues necessary for improving the validity of the voting process, including addressing the lack of fully voter-verifiable ballots in some areas, stopping voter intimidation tactics, and halting official actions to discourage voters. Those problems, many times conducted under the aegis of official actions, won’t be solved by photo IDs or voter roll purges. –Rick Cohen