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Activists Concerned About Latino Voting Rights

Efforts to combat voter fraud in 23 states could jeopardize the voting rights of more than 10 million Latino voters, a report released today by the Advancement Project found.

“Our report shows that 23 states have legal barriers that disproportionately affect voter registration and participation by Latino citizens,” Katherine Culliton-Gonzalez said on a conference call with reporters. Culliton-Gonzalez is the senior attorney and director of voter protection for Advancement Project. The group describes itself as a “multi-racial civil rights organization” that was founded by civil rights lawyers.

The group’s report argues that the restrictions are not necessary because there is little evidence of voter fraud.

“The actual instances of noncitizens voting are very low,” Culliton-Gonzalez said, citing News21, a Carnegie-Knight initiative that released an investigative report about voter fraud in the U.S. that found only 10 cases of alleged, in-person voter impersonation since 2000.

Culliton-Gonzalez said the state laws seem politically motivated and she compared them to “Jim Crow” laws that sought to keep African-Americans from voting after the Civil War through the 1960s.

“We’ve noticed that since the demographics of our country have changed ... there are new forms of voter restrictions that affect the Latino community,” she said. “And the reason why I think is because that certain politicians are afraid of the power of the community and they are manipulating the people’s vote.”

The restrictions cited in the report include citizenship-based voter purges, proof of citizenship requirements and photo identification requirements.

The report identified 16 states — including battleground states Colorado, Florida and Iowa — that have undertaken or attempted to undertake a purge of their voter rolls. The other states are Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington and five counties in Arizona.

States began to take steps to pursue citizenship-based purges after the 2010 elections, which coincided with the increasing size and influence of the Latino electorate, according to the report.

“The trend accelerated in July 2012, when the total number of states seeking to compare their voter registration rolls with immigration databases increased to 16,” the report said. “The method disproportionately targets naturalized Latino citizens who may improperly be identified as noncitizens under these programs. In 2012, key battleground states with high concentrations of Latino voters are now pursuing these wide-scale voter purges.”

Since 2010, 14 states have sought to require proof of citizenship.

“These new voter registration laws require Americans to vote to provide documents that state officials deem satisfactory to prove citizenship,” the report said. “This means providing a certified birth certificate, passport, or naturalization papers, all of which impose significant time and financial burdens, among others.”

Georgia’s law was approved by the Justice Department in 2010, while Arizona, which saw its law struck down in lower courts, has requested review by the Supreme Court. Alabama’s law must still be precleared by the DOJ or federal court.

Kansas has a law that goes into effect in 2013. South Carolina and Utah have also sought to pass similar legislation. Connecticut, Colorado, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, Nevada, Oregon and Texas have all introduced citizenship-proof requirement laws.

Nine states have enacted strict laws requiring photo identification before permitting registered voters to cast a regular, as opposed to a provisional ballot, and in five of those states — Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Pennsylvania and Tennessee — photo ID laws are currently in effect.

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