“It has the impact of scaring people and reminding them of [immigration] raids and other kinds of law enforcement that have been targeted toward these communities,” said Penda D. Hair, a co-director of the Advancement Project, part of a coalition of liberal groups that oppose the new voting laws.
Proponents of the efforts to tighten voting laws, including several secretaries of state, say they want to root out voter fraud and are not targeting particular demographic groups.
“The fact is our office only compared our voter rolls against DMV records where individuals showed proof of non-citizenship,” Rich Coolidge, spokesman for the Colorado secretary of state’s office, said in an e-mail. “To insinuate anything else is absolutely false and reckless. Unfortunately, some partisan groups attempt to leverage this effort for their own political gain.”
In-person voting fraud is rare, studies have shown, but there have been recent cases of absentee ballot fraud, and small numbers of noncitizens are registered to vote. In Colorado, the secretary of state’s office estimated last year that as many as 11,000 noncitizens were registered to vote. But after checking a federal immigration database, the state announced this month that 141 noncitizens were registered and as few as 35 had cast ballots.
Several of the states with more restrictive laws and procedures, such as Colorado, have large Hispanic populations. As the deadline to register voters approaches in many states, the Advancement Project’s report warns that the new rules are working against efforts to register Hispanics, the nation’s fastest-growing demographic.
Both President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney are working hard to appeal to Hispanics, who could be key to winning important swing states if they turn out to vote in large numbers.
Advocacy groups have been trying for several years to increase the number of Latinos who vote. In 2010, 6.3 million Latinos who were eligible to vote reported that they were unregistered and 10.8 million said they did not vote, according to census figures cited by the report.
“At the end of the day, voting should be free, fair and accessible, and these barriers are standing in the way of an increasing demographic in this country,” said Judith A. Browne-Dianis, a co-director of the Advancement Project.
A dozen state legislatures passed rules last year requiring voters to present state-issued photo IDs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, although in four states the laws were vetoed by Democratic governors.
Pennsylvania’s governor signed a voter ID bill in March that is still being litigated, with opponents presenting studies showing that blacks, Hispanics and others in urban areas are less likely to have the required ID.