Voter Suppression Could Keep Latinos in Texas Away From the Polls
The coronavirus pandemic has only added to the many obstacles Latino voters face in the state.
According to the 2010 census, Latinos make up almost 40 percent of the Texas population and are on track to become the state's largest population group by next year, but while the population keeps rising, the state keeps implementing measures that make it harder for the group to vote.
"Texas has a long history; it's the state that has the most pronounced, overt, racist voter suppression tactics that we know of," Lydia Camarillo, president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, told NBC. One such tactic is the state's strict voter ID law, enacted after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. The law declared that voters could only use certain forms of ID — such as a gun permit, but not a college ID card. An early version of the law was found to deliberately discriminate against Black and Latino voters.
"For 144 years, Texas has perfected the science of suppressing voters at the ballot box," said former presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke. "Its preference for gun permits over college IDs is part of an 'infrastructure of suppression.'"
The coronavirus pandemic is also adding to the many obstacles Latino voters face in Texas. Governor Greg Abbott has refused to expand mail-in voting to accommodate people concerned about exposure at the polls, even as 15,000 COVID-19 deaths — 56.1 percent of which are Latino — have been reported in the state. Abbott did extend early voting by six days, but others in his party are suing to prevent that expansion and announced the shutdown of satellite locations for Texans allowed to vote by mail, only allowing one drop-off box per county.
The announcement brought about criticism and a lawsuit filed by the League of United Latin American Citizens. Judge Lina Hidalgo criticized the governor's decision, noting that the county for which she serves as the chief elected official is bigger than the state of Rhode Island. "Harris County is bigger than the state of Rhode Island, and we're supposed to have 1 site?" she tweeted. "This isn't security, it's suppression. Mail ballot voters shouldn't have to drive 30 miles to drop off their ballot, or rely on a mail system that's facing cutbacks."