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Latinos, Wisconsin Voter ID Laws and How Lawmakers Hold Minorities Back in the 2016 Presidential Election

First Posted: Apr 05, 2016 12:30 PM EDT
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Registered voters in Wisconsin need little more than a government-issued identification to cast ballots in Democratic and Republican primaries on Tuesday.

Presenting valid ID may seem like a mundane request to anyone with a driver's license or passport, but it's a burden for hundreds of thousands of people who can't meet the prerequisite, either because they don't drive or don't have means or funds for an ID.

The biggest problem with Wisconsin's stricter voter law isn't how it disproportionately affected minorities and the impoverished, or how they jump deterrent hoops for rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. The experience leaves potential voters disenfranchised.

"Our community doesn't have the information. There hasn't been a lot of information provided on how easy this is," said Ben Monterroso, executive director of Mi Familia Vota. "A lot of people don't know where to go."

Some aren't aware that they already had an acceptable ID, others give up on the process altogether.

Voter ID Restrictions on Minorities

Dozens of states have passed some form of a voter ID law over the last five years, and 33 will have such laws in effect for the 2016 presidential election. Arkansas and Texas are still tangling over what they consider constitutional; Texas' case is headed to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later this years after state officials requested all 15 circuit judges be involved.

"Texas is not going to make it easy on our community anytime soon," Monterroso said. "We have to take advantage of laws that are helpful."

Monterroso believes politicians need to be more responsive to voter ID issues, given how hard it is for some minorities to be part of the democratic process.

But Arkansas and Texas at least allocate funds to educate voters about any impending changes. In Wisconsin, the Republican-controlled legislature never approved any measures, even one that requires a public-service campaign ahead of Tuesday's primary.

"We had already let the legislature know on multiple occasions that money was needed," said Reid Magney, a public information officer with the Wisconsin General Accountability Board, in speaking with ProPublica. "We've been making our best efforts with public service announcements and media to get the word out."

Up to 300,000 Wisconsin voters did not possess a valid ID for the 2012 presidential election, according to a study executed by University of Georgia professor M.V. Hood III. A second report found the number closer to 350,000 residents. Nearly one-third of voters live in Milwaukee County, which houses about 113,000 Latinos, or 39.5 percent of the state's Hispanic population.

Reaching Out To Latinos

Latinos are the fastest-growing voter base in the country, yet voting restrictions appear to affect them and African-Americans more than other ethnic groups. Two years ago, the Government Accountability Office released a report saying as much, highlighting how states with extensive voter laws had detrimental effects on the overall turnout.

For that reason, advocacy groups and organizations like Mi Familia Vota and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UCFW) have ramped up efforts over the last few years. Educating voters is pivotal to encourage more minorities, especially Latinos, to have a say in the fall.

UCFW Secretary-Treasurer Esther Lopez told Latin Post that outreach efforts stretch to its union members nationwide, some whose primary motivation may be getting naturalized before a pathway to citizenship narrows. The organization's goal in the next few months is to give millions of U.S. citizens and undocumented immigrants alike all the tools they need for an informed decision.

"If you live and work in America, if you're contributing to the prosperity of this nation, you should have the opportunity to become an American," Lopez said. "That's a fundamental principal of our participatory democracy."

UFCW and Mi Familia Vota are part of the "Stand Up to Hate" campaign, which holds naturalization workshops and clinics around the country. A lot of focus goes into visiting Latino-centric neighborhoods, where they arrive equipped with all the information and tools needed to vote. Here, campaign volunteers explain the voter registration process to naturalized citizens and U.S. children of immigrants.

Monterroso said Mi Familia Vota counts 10,000 additional registered voters so far, but they expect somewhere around 100,000 in time for November's general election.

Affecting the 2016 Presidential Election

Lopez said one of the reasons UFCW endorses Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton is because she has a rapport with Latinos and understands their needs, ranging from immigration reform to improved working conditions to earning better pay.

Advocacy groups hesitate to endorse candidates outside of Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Real estate mogul Donald Trump may be the alternative option if he garners 1,237 electoral delegates ahead of July's Republican Convention, though Trump's favorability rating among Latinos hovers around his standing with women; a Washington Post/ Univision poll released in February found 80 percent of Hispanics view the GOP front-runner unfavorably.

Trump wants to fortify the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz wants to go a step further, vowing to deport all undocumented immigrants, though he hasn't clarified how the deportation process would go about. Some of Cruz's more extreme proposals include monitoring Muslim neighborhoods; Trump's includes banning all Muslims from entering the country.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker recently signed a bill that dissolves the non-partisan Government Accountability Board, which informs state residents about how, when, and where they can vote. In lieu would be an Elections and Ethics board made up of three Democratic and three Republican lawmakers, those all members would be appointed by Walker.

Voter ID laws in the Badger State resonate around the country. Latinos are becoming aware of disparaging restrictions. Groups like UFCW, Mi Familia Vota and the League of United Latin American citizens make sure they know, just in time to select the next commander in chief.

"I hope that this year we're not only going to be voting for who the president of this country is, but for the kind of country we want to live in," Monterroso said. "Do we want to live in a country that has hatred, violence, and fear, or do we want to live in a country where we can feel like the future is in our hands."

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