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How the SCOTUS Ruling on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act Affects Latino Voters

Photo via the Adios Arpaio Facebook page.

The voting rights of people of color suffered a huge blow last week, hitting Latinos particularly hard.

The same day the Supreme Court invalidated a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that helped protect the right to vote for disenfranchised racial and ethnic minorities in select parts of the country, a top Texas state official made headlines by saying Texas would “immediately” enact a strict voter ID law. A panel of federal judges rejected the law last year, which it referred to as “the most stringent in the country,” adding that it would impose “unforgiving burdens on the poor.” Texas is home to the nation’s second-largest concentration of Latinos (9.5 million).

A day after the Supreme Court ruling, the Advancement Project, the national civil rights organization, published a study that found Latino voters had longer wait times at Florida polls last November than any other ethnic group. Like Texas, Florida was among the states and localities covered by the Voting Rights Act’s provision that the court struck down. Florida is also home to the country’s third-largest concentration of Latinos (4.3 million).

At the heart of the court’s decision is the invalidation of the act’s Section 4 “coverage” formula for its Section 5 “preclearance” program, which required geographical jurisdictions with a history of discriminatory voting practices to obtain federal government or court approval before implementing changes in their voting systems. In addition to Texas and Florida, the provision covered jurisdictions in Arizona, California, Georgia and New York, which together have more than 15 million Latino voters. In total, 32% of the nation’s more than 52 million Latinos live in jurisdictions covered by Section 5.

As María Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, located in the county with the country’s highest concentration of Latinos, said:

The recent proliferation of voter suppression laws in many states across the country shows the fundamental right to vote is still very much under attack. Too often, Latino working people end up being among the most negatively affected. We lament and strongly disapprove of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance provision, which will in effect empower some states to discriminate against Latino voters.

Echoing last year’s panel ruling on the Texas ID law, research conducted by the political opinion research firm Latino Decisions found that racial and ethnic minorities living in jurisdictions covered by Section 5—which are twice as likely as non-covered areas to adopt stricter voting policies—“continue to suffer from socioeconomic disparity that hinders their ability to participate in the political process.”

With immigration reform, including a road map to citizenship, high on Washington’s agenda—as evidenced by the bill recently approved by the Senate—it remains to be seen how many more Latinos, as a consequence of the court’s ruling, will have to wait in line longer or face more barriers just to exercise their basic right to vote.

“Our democracy has always been better when we have full participation and when people aren’t disenfranchised based on race, class, gender or other biased factors,” declared AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a recent statement. “We call on Congress with leadership from President Obama to live up to the ideals of our democracy by protecting and ensuring the right to vote for all.”

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