The implementation of voter identification laws and a lack of multilingual support would likely interfere with Latinos in the US having free and fair access to the ballot, according to experts testifying before Congress. On Monday, a number of experts - including some representing Latino organizations - testified before the Committee on House Administration's Subcommittee on elections to discuss the measures, which have become a politically important issue in recent weeks.
Earlier in May, Democrats in the Senate moved ahead with a sweeping proposal to rewrite US election laws. The â€˜For the People' Act has already passed the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives.
The bill - which requires that every state adopt an automatic voter registration system and mandates that states give voters the option of submitting signed statements instead of IDs - has been fiercely attacked by Republican lawmakers.
Just last week, for example, Texas Republican Ted Cruz claimed that Democrats had intentionally â€˜designed' the bill to allow millions of undocumented immigrants to vote. In remarks before the subcommittee on Monday, University of New Mexico Professor Lonna Rae Atkinson noted that while much of the focus has been on how voter ID policies impact voter turnout, "an equally important and alternative question to consider is whether voter ID policies are administered equally across groups."
"Laws like voter ID have been used to create barriers to participation and have been implemented unequally across segments of the voting population," she said, noting that research has shown that research in New Mexico has shown that Hispanics were asked for photo ID more often than whites.
"Unequal application appears to be related to the interaction between the amount of discretion that poll workers have along with the complexity of the voter ID law, especially having different voter ID rules for different types of voters," she added.
Dr. Matt Barretto, the faculty director of the University of California - Los Angeles (UCLA) voting rights project - part of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative - said that voter identification laws "have a disenfranchising effect on racial and ethnic minorities, who are less likely than Whites to possess a valid ID."
In some cases, Dr. Barretto said, eroding turnout among Democrats is sometimes crafted directly into ID laws. "In Texas, hunting and gun permits, which Whites are statistically more likely to possess, are legitimate forms of ID but social service cards, more often held by Blacks and Latinos, are not," he said.
These conditions, Dr. Barretto said, amount to a barrier that prevents some from voting. In the case of Texas, for example, he pointed to research which showed a 2% to 5% different between Hispanic and White voters possessing a valid ID. Kira Romero-Craft, the director of the southeast region for the New York City-based Latino Justice PRLDEF, noted that Spanish-language materials are vital for Latinos to vote.
"There is no doubt that the language access provisions currently in place...are vitally important to protecting against attempts to suppress the votes of language minority voters," she said. "I have witnessed the disenfranchisement voters experience when being turned away from the ballot box due to limited English proficiency, as well as election officials' resistance to full compliance with language assistance requirements," Romero-Craft added.
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