Silencing Our Voice: Voter Suppression in the 2016 Election

Posted on 04/07/2016 @ 12:45 AM

Tags: blog

Photo Credit: Miguel Otarola/Cronkite News

By: Mark Salay, LULAC National Communications Intern

This year’s election gives way to a possibility of firsts for the country: the first Latino president, the first woman president, or the first Jewish president. But a first that hasn’t been addressed by the mainstream press is that this is the first presidential election since Shelby v. Holder gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

This has left millions of minority voters–including millions of Latinos–vulnerable to discrimination at the voting booth. We are left to ask if Latinos are truly being given an equal opportunity at casting a ballot this election season.

In the 2013 Supreme Court case Shelby v. Holder, the Court held that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional. Section 4 determined which states and localities qualified to be under the jurisdiction of Section 5, which listed states and counties that had to go through preclearance, a process that required approval from the U.S. Justice Department to change voting requirements. Preclearance was targeted at eliminating disenfranchisement in regions with a history of voter discrimination.

Although the Court did not rule on Section 5, by ruling section 4 unconstitutional it essentially made Section 5 null. This gave states and counties with a history of voter discrimination power over deciding who gets to vote and who does not. Nine states, mostly concentrated in the South, and multiple counties in five different states were subject to preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

The consequences of this ruling has created an affront to democracy, as millions of voters can be potentially turned away at the polls because of strict voter ID laws, early voting cutbacks, and registration restrictions.

The effects of Shelby v. Holder were obvious in Arizona’s March 22 primary, which dissolved into a complete disaster. Voters in Maricopa County, the state’s largest and most diverse, had wait times as long as five hours because the county did away with 70 percent of polling places. Only 60 polling locations were in place, down from 200 in 2012 when Arizona was still monitored by an intact VRA. Arizona was one of nine states previously monitored by Section 5 because of its discriminatory record against Latino and Native American voters.

Even though lines stretched hundreds of people long after the 7 p.m. cutoff time, dedicated voters were undeterred. Aracely Calderon, an immigrant from Guatemala, was the last person in the state to cast her vote 12 minutes after midnight and after waiting in line for five hours.

“I’m going to go home very happy and satisfied because it really is a joy to be able to vote,” she told The Arizona Republic..

Minorities waiting in line longer to vote is not specific to Arizona. Hispanics report a wait time of more than 30 minutes, six times more often than White voters, and African Americans report extensive wait times four times more often than white voters.

In Texas, where strict voter ID laws have been in place since 2011, more than 600,000 registered voters do not have the appropriate ID required. Identification such as college IDs are not accepted, but handgun permits are. In March 2016, LULAC and Rep. Marc Veasy (D TX-33rd District) asked the U.S. Supreme Court in late-March to block Texas from enforcing its tough Voter ID laws for the general election, citing that a 2014 court decision upholding the tough identification policy is outdated and originally meant to be enforced only through the 2014 election.

Supporters of the restrictive voting laws in North Carolina charge that not having these policies will lead to the possibility of voter fraud. However, in that state there has been only two incidents of voter impersonation of the 35 million votes cast from 2000 to 2012.

Laws are currently in place to protect access to guns and products detrimental to health such as tobacco, yet there is a failure on the part of the U.S. Congress to protect one of the basic principles this country was founded on. It is immoral to try to win elections by preventing millions–usually the most vulnerable–from voting, especially since those advocating for stricter voting laws are the same elected officials who have failed to address the needs and demands of minority communities.

Not allowing minorities to have a say in the voting process will engender grave repercussions, especially within the Latino population. Resources will not be allocated to Latino communities if they cannot vote, leading to less investment in education, healthcare, affordable housing, and good paying jobs for Latinos. With the Latino demographic growing, this disparity in resources will affect the entire country’s economic and social landscape. Congressional leaders must implement policies to override the Court’s decision because any alternative is purely counterproductive.

Mark Salay is the Communications Intern at the LULAC National Office in Washington, D.C. He is a senior at the University of California, Santa Barbara, majoring in communication with minors in history and professional writing, and will be graduating in the Spring of 2016.

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