A "Democratic" Country

January 4, 2017

As the vote recount is impatiently awaited by many, president-elect Donald Trump has continued to raise questions of voter fraud, most recently tweeting, “In addition to winning the electoral debate in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally” (Keyes 2016).  Nobody has been able to find evidence of a single illegal immigrant casting a vote -let alone millions slipping into the system- that would support this claim.  On the other hand, evidence of executed attacks to keep Latinos who are U.S. citizens from voting is abundant.

Although the Constitution explicitly allows every U.S. citizen to vote, it seems as though a number of roadblocks have been newly constructed (in addition to the countless others still in practice) meant to discourage minorities to vote, especially Latinos.  Most people upon hearing this will immediately think of voter intimidation at the polls (which is surprisingly not an illegal practice in a number of states).  Of course, voter intimidation has still been prevalent in recent years – anti-immigrant activists in Arizona during Obama’s election went as far as bringing clipboards, a camcorder, and a gun up to Hispanic voters to, as they said, help identify illegal immigrants and felons (Benson 2016).  And this year was no different, as reports came in of Trump supporters blocking polls and intimidating voters at polling places, one particular example coming from Coral Gables, Florida (Vicens and Levintova 2016).  One Ohioan this year openly admitted to taking his gun to the polls with the purpose of making “Mexicans.  Syrians.  People who can’t speak American…” nervous (Lowy 2016).  

Underhanded laws, however, not intimidation or deceptive practices, are what form the basis of contemporary voter discrimination.  The year 2016 marked the first presidential election in fifty years without the protection of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was set in place to ensure voters were not disenfranchised based on race, particularly in states with a history of systematic racism and repression (Rutenberg 2015).  The elimination of this law saw near-immediate returns of restrictive voting laws that largely affect minorities.  In fact, the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) said that roughly 8 million of the 27.3 million eligible Latino voters live in areas chronicled as having discriminatory voting practices that will no longer be pre-cleared by the federal government (Waslin 2016).   

Because politicians cannot create laws that blatantly discriminate and exclude minorities, they rely instead on tactics that make voting more difficult for them.  One such way is to decrease the number of places they can go to vote; there were 868 fewer polling places in the 2016 election.  Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina and North Carolina were among those states featured in these closures (Burke 2016).  In addition, a large number of Latinos depend on early voting days since Election Day usually falls on a work day and is not considered a holiday in the United States.  This year many states cut these early voting days, cut the number of voting hours during these days, or again decreased the number of polling places offering early voting – in some cases creating wait times of four or more hours to vote.  A number of states also eliminated same-day voting registration; this practice unfairly targets lower-income Latinos who must regularly change addresses and are unable to update their voter information to reflect these changes (Rutenberg 2016). Although they were unable to pass the law in time for this election, Republicans in Texas have plans to criminalize get-out-the-vote workers trying to help elderly voters with mail-in ballots.  This assistance has been indispensable for seniors that speak Spanish as they often do not grasp the fairly complex process of requesting and returning absentee mail ballots (Woodman 2016).

For those Latinos actually able to register themselves and get to a polling place in time to vote, there are still multiple hurdles they must jump.  Rhetoric like Trump’s which was previously cited works to incite fear and push for the passage of even more exclusive laws for criterion like specific voter IDs.  This year new photo-ID laws were put in place that limited the types of accepted identification.  One example comes from Texas, where gun permits (usually held by whites) were acceptable identification; however, state school and employee IDs did not make the cut (Rutenberg 2016).  The state’s voter ID laws were already reported to have violated the Voting Rights Act this year, but a federal appeals court never ruled for the law to be struck down (Nuño 2016).

Many Latinos like Pennsylvanian Juan Rivera came ready to vote registered with the correct voter identification and were still turned away.  Although Rivera has been voting in the same place for 12 years, he and many other Latinos were told there was no record of them ever being registered (McDonald 2016).  NALEO’s hotline for voting problems reported that of their more than 4,400 calls, 65 percent were from voters who were registered but not found on registration rolls and had to submit provisional ballots (Nuño 2016).          

Works Cited

Benson, Jocelyn. 2016. “When Poll-Watching Crosses the Line”. 25 August. Politico Magazine. Available to read here: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/08/poll-election-monitor-challengers-vote-laws-watchers-214189 [Accessed 6 December 2016].

Vicens, AJ and Levintova, Hannah. 2016. “Here’s a Map of the Problems at the Polls So Far”. 8 November. Mother Jones. Available to read here: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/11/election-2016-voter-intimidation-tracker-live-blog [Accessed 6 December 2016].

Rutenberg, Jim. 2015. “The New Attack on Hispanic Voting Rights”. 17 December. New York Times. Available to read here: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/20/magazine/block-the-vote.html?_r=1 [Accessed 6 December 2016].   

Lowy, Jonathan. 2016. “Lax Gun Laws May Pit Bullets Against Ballots”. 4 November. The Huffington Post. Available to read here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonathan-lowy/lax-gun-laws-may-pit-bullets_b_12802702.html [Accessed 6 December 2016].

Waslin, Michele. 2016. “Restrictive Voting Laws Threaten to Block Millions of Latino Voters, Including Many Newly-Naturalized”. 12 May. Immigration Impact. Available to read here: http://immigrationimpact.com/2016/05/12/restrictive-voting-laws-latinos/ [Accessed 6 December 2016].

Burke, Lauren Victoria. 2016. “As Latino Voter Turnout Grows, Republicans Focus on Keeping Blacks From Voting”. 25 November. Black Press USA. Available to read here: http://www.blackpressusa.com/as-latino-voter-turnout-grows-republicans-focus-on-keeping-blacks-from-voting/ [Accessed 6 December 2016].

Woodman, Spencer. 2016. “Texas Republicans Target Elderly Latino Voters with Fraud Accusations”. 8 November. The Intercept. Available to read here: https://theintercept.com/2016/11/08/texas-republicans-target-elderly-latino-voters-with-fraud-accusations/ [Accessed 6 December 2016].

Keyes, Allison. 2016. “Voting Rights, Already Under Siege, May Fare Worse Under Trump”. 29 November. The Root. Available to read here: http://www.theroot.com/articles/politics/2016/11/voting-rights-already-under-siege-may-fare-worse-under-trump/ [Accessed 6 December 2016].

Nuño, Stephen A. 2016. “Opinion: Recounts Without Evidence of Fraud Will Harm Latino Voters”. 28 November. NBC News. Available to read here: http://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/opinion-recounts-without-evidence-fraud-will-harm-latino-voters-n688491 [Accessed 6 December 2016].

McDonald, Natalie Hope. 2016. “Latino voters allege intimidation at the polls in Tacony”. 8 November. PhillyVoice. Available to read here: http://www.phillyvoice.com/latino-voters-allege-intimidation-polls-tacony/ [Accessed 6 December 2016].

Nuño, Stephen A. 2016. “NALEO Report Outlines Latino Voter Problems in 2016 Election”. 21 November. NBC News. Available to read here: http://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/naleo-report-outlines-latino-voter-problems-2016-election-n686791 [Accessed 6 December 2016].

About Author(s)

Rachel Rozak
Rachel Rozak is an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh where she majors in Spanish and marketing and is additionally pursuing a minor in Portuguese and a certificate in Latin American studies. Through her studies she quickly became passionate about Latin America and its people and culture. She hopes to continue finding ways to blend her business skills with this love through opportunities like her recent summer internship abroad in Solola, Guatemala and semester of studies abroad in Heredia, Costa Rica.