Although Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama are both courting Latino voters in this year's election (now less than two months away!), a new study by civil rights organization The Advancement Project indicates that there may a problem in that plan. Because of voter ID laws and registration policies in 23 states, more than 10 million Latino citizens could be deterred from registering to vote or getting to the polls on Election Day.
Did you get a driver's license before being naturalized as a U.S. citizen? Do you know if your state requires proof of citizenship when you register rather than at the polls? Is your government-issued ID expired? If you or any Latinos you know fall into one of these scenarios, you may be left powerless come Election Day.
Here's how it breaks down across the country:
In 16 states - including Florida, Colorado and Arizona - alleged noncitizen purges are targeting naturalized citizens by comparing driver's licenses databases with their voter registration rolls. This means that if you were naturalized as a U.S. citizen after getting a driver's license (which is the case for many immigrants), you may not be allowed to vote despite the fact that it's your legal right.
Other states target voter registration by requiring sufficient documentation proving citizenship when you apply. These laws require you to present birth certificate, passport, or naturalization papers to prove citizenship but are not clearly communicated to voters who are used to showing ID at the polls and not on their application.
Lastly, some states have very strict voter ID laws requiring unexpired, government-issued IDs which prevents the more common forms of ID like expired driver's licenses and veteran's ID cards. Imagine showing up with your passport, only to discover that it expired last month. Citizenship doesn't expire the way IDs do, so this puts an unfair burden on citizens trying to cast their vote.
Voter turnout among Latinos is already a concern, with only 50% of eligible voters participating in the 2008 election and 31% participating in 2010. For 2012, it is estimated that there could be 25.6 million Latinos eligible to vote in the general election but those numbers don't matter as much as how many Latinos end up casting their ballots. States should be encouraging citizens to vote rather than having even more obstacles to get past, especially when these laws aren't communicated well to voters.
Take the time to read the report from The Advancement Project (PDF) and get familiar with voter ID laws in your own state. Don't let voter suppression laws take away the potential power of Latinos in this country. Let's make headlines on Election Day not with news of how few of us voted, but with record-breaking stats on how many of us exercised our right to vote!