Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Impediments to Latino voting

Studies and reports from advocacy outfits and think tanks are a dime a dozen. (I know; I used to help churn these out.) Very occasionally, one really does assemble inaccessible information that matters, or ought to matter. The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) has published such a study on obstacles to Latino voting. The entire document is available online, but I wanted to pull out some bits that particularly struck me.

We know that, because of economic dislocation in Puerto Rico, many islanders are moving to the U.S. to work. This Spanish-speaking group are native born citizens, unequivocally eligible to vote in any state they move to. However, in states which have implemented voter ID requirements to register, they face a particular hurdle:

A Puerto Rican birth certificate would normally constitute proof of its holder’s U.S. citizenship, but in 2009, the Puerto Rican government adopted new standards for official birth certificates, and simultaneously invalidated all Puerto Rican birth certificates issued before 2010. Since the adoption of the new standards, to register to vote in a state with a proof-of-citizenship requirement, all Puerto Rican-born voters must either have a U.S. passport, or must have gone through additional procedures and paid fees to obtain a new birth certificate after July 2010.

This could matter in Florida where many have settled, as could other obstacles:

... Latino voters are more likely than others to be erroneously identified as potential noncitizens as a result of post-registration citizenship verification procedures. ... Any process that targets naturalized citizens is likely to have a disproportionate impact on Latinos, and in one representative instance in Florida, such an effort resulted in creation of a list of suspected noncitizens of whom 87% were people of color, and 58% were Latino, even though Latinos accounted for less than 20% of the state’s eligible voters.

Then we get to language issues. It used to be that under the Voting Rights Act, many jurisdictions had to provide materials in widely used languages, but the Supreme Court tossed out that requirement a couple of years ago. Election administrators are usually underfunded and overburdened. Without federal supervision, language assistance is often the first thing to go, even if there is no malice. But the effect on Latino voting is measurably large.

Where quality language assistance is available, the rate at which eligible Latino and Spanish-speaking voters register and vote tends to improve; registration and turnout are lower where language assistance is not comprehensively available. Professors Michael Jones-Correa and Israel Waismel- Manor found that Latino voter turnout was 11% percent higher in counties covered by Section 203 of the VRA than in uncovered counties that do not provide Spanish language assistance, and Latino registration 15% higher in covered than uncovered counties. Provision of Spanish- language printed materials was associated with a 4% increase in Latino registration rates, and employment of Spanish-speaking staff was associate with a 6% increase in Latino registration.

Election officials too often act stumped by Latino names.

Maria del Carmen Sanchez has a lot in common with other potential Latino voters in her home state of North Carolina. Like more than one-fourth of the state’s Latino electorate, she is a naturalized citizen, born in Cuba. And like many Latinos, she has a name that non-Latino municipal officials sometimes struggle to understand. Ms. Sanchez’s full given name was Maria del Carmen Sanchez Ennes. Maria del Carmen is her first name, and Ennes is her mother’s last name, while Sanchez, her father’s last name, is the last name she went by before her marriage. After marriage, Ms. Sanchez’s North Carolina driver’s license listed her married name, Maria Sanchez Thorpe, but mistakenly denoted “Sanchez” as her middle name. When she first obtained a Social Security Number as a child, moreover, her name was mistakenly recorded with “del” denoted as her middle name, and without any notation of “Carmen” or “Ennes.”

In 2007, when Ms. Sanchez attempted to renew her North Carolina driver’s license, she was initially refused service because employees determined that the married name on her previously-existing driver’s license record did not match the name on her U.S. passport: Maria del Carmen Sanchez. Unbelievably, the solution employees offered her was to obtain a divorce so that her legal name would revert to that reflected on her passport. ...

Her odyssey within a culturally uncomprehending system continued for several additional rounds before she finally managed to register to vote.

Then there are the obstacles to voting created by what Salvadoran leftists taught some of us to call "strategic incompetence."

The costs of inadequate and mismanaged voting resources, and resulting long lines, vary widely across racial, ethnic, and geographic lines. One of the most striking revelations to emerge from the study of voting waiting times is that their negative impact on Latino and African American voters is far greater than it is for white voters. For example, the average wait for all Latino voters nationwide in 2012 was 19 minutes, compared to 12 minutes for white voters.

Although African Americans experienced the longest national-average wait times, at 23 minutes, Latino voters faced the longest waits in Florida, where precincts serving larger proportions of Latino voters closed later than precincts serving mostly white voters.

... Whether or not conscious intention to impair Latino and African American voting is a factor, the individual choices that election administrators have made in equipping polling places have clearly resulted in less opportunity for members of these communities to participate in elections.

The experience of being questioned at the polls in and of itself is an obstacle to citizen participation. Who wants to risk being questioned when you try to exercise a basic right? Not many of us. The report takes up the case of Indiana which has invited partisan poll watchers to question the eligibility of voters.

... Indiana increased the potential negative impact on voters of its ID requirement when the state adopted a provision in 2013 that gives poll watchers appointed by candidates, political parties, and proponents of ballot initiatives the power to demand to see and inspect any voter’s identification. We cannot reliably estimate what percentage of Indiana’s Latino residents eligible to vote are likely to face additional scrutiny of their identification documents at the polls in 2016.

However, where scrutiny is applied and voters increasingly doubt their ability to satisfy new voting requirements, the participation of Latino and other underrepresented voters is likely to suffer the most. Analysis of the 2008 Survey of the Performance of American Elections revealed that 65% of Latino voters nationwide reported being asked for photo ID at the polls, compared to just 51% of white voters. ... The University of Chicago polled young voters aged 18-29 in November 2012, and found that 57% of Latinos were asked for photo ID, compared to just 42.2% of whites.

Thanks to Facing South for pointing to this study.

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