Much of the discussion this election cycle has been about changing demographics. But demographics alone aren’t going to run a policy agenda through the system. Huge challenges remain in economic justice, immigration, environment, education and housing reform.
Much of the discussion this election cycle has been about changing demographics.
Black voters turned out overwhelmingly for Obama. Millennial voters, who represent the start of the next demographic phase, did too. Republicans are blaming each other for losing the Latino vote; Steve Schmidt, head of McCain’s 2008 campaign, told MSNBC this was the last election that someone could possibly win without getting a good portion of Latinos, which of course Gov. Romney didn’t. Mike Huckabee said Republicans have done a terrible job of reaching out to people of color, while DREAMers are claiming credit—and I’ll give it to them—for forcing POTUS’s hand to deliver the Deferred Action executive order, which in turn delivered him many Latino votes.
But demographics alone aren’t going to run a policy agenda through the system. It’s not like we, people of color, can just exist and, as a result, lead politicians to pass helpful policies simply by asking. Huge challenges remain in economic justice, immigration, environment, education and housing reform. The nation’s understanding of what it will take to generate racial, economic and gender equity remains shallow, focused largely on how new constituencies threaten the old white way, per Bill O’Reilly.
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But if we keep doing our work, if we keep fighting, that collective understanding will deepen in ways that make some real breakthroughs possible.
Voting yesterday, I paid more attention than I usually do. My polling place is a school gymnasium around the corner from my apartment in Rego Park, Queens. There were about 20 voters and as many poll workers at 9:30 a.m. The mood was hushed—serious but not solemn. People smiled at each other. Many older voters of all colors, though heavy on the Eastern Europeans as is the neighborhood. The poll workers were diverse, and there were interpreters for Hindi, Chinese, and Spanish. A smiling woman in a suit posed for a picture and I thought “new immigrant voter.” It was different from 2008, when Election Day had the “historic” mantle. Yesterday, I felt like I was doing an everyday kind of thing with my neighbors, not so glamorous as the last time but just as important. To be honest, I don’t find elections the most compelling form of political activity, and I often vote with a feeling of being on auto pilot.
But over the last few months, I’ve been influenced by my friend Judith Browne-Dianis. Browne-Dianis is the director of the Advancement Project, which has been doing stellar work to protect the vote, as it does every election season. Every time she talks about voter suppression, I see her calling up childhood memories of going with her mother to the polls. I see her acknowledging her elders for making sure she’d be able to vote in the first place. I see her putting on notice anyone who dares attempt suppression on her watch. Her passion for a fair democracy has been reinforced by our own Voting Rights Watch project, which has me all agitated about that suppression, too.
The way the voting rights community has come together with groups like Color of Change, the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, and Take Action Minnesota has been astounding in the sheer volume of resistance, monitoring, problem-solving and communication. My social media feeds made it clear that people were looking after each other at the polls. The memes of this election for me will always be “stay in line!” and “don’t let anyone tell you you can’t vote!”
And that’s the message I take into today. Stay until it’s done, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. The last four years has taught me that presidents matter, but movements matter more. Politicians, and everyday Americans too, do great things when movements make it impossible to do anything else. The tone and energy that went into preventing voter suppression, combined with the tone and energy of my polling place this morning, is what we need to ride for the next four years. It is an outraged, urgent force that changes how we look at things, combined with a respectful inclusiveness that enables everyone to participate.
Republicans in state legislatures that have passed rigid voter ID laws have claimed that such laws are necessary to prevent in-person voter fraud. GOP-led investigations, however, have not turned up any evidence of voter fraud.
Officials in North Carolina and Texas want the Supreme Court to reinstate voter ID laws after two federal appeals courts ruled they should not take effect, setting the stage for a potential Roberts Court fight over voting rights during a presidential election.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) on Monday said in a statement that the state had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay last month’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that struck down the voter ID requirement. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals released that decision in July, holding that the Republican-majority legislature had enacted the voter ID provision of HB 589 with a discriminatory intent to burden Black voters, and that it violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
McCrory said the Fourth Circuit’s ruling striking down that state’s voter ID law would create confusion during the upcoming November election.
“Allowing the Fourth Circuit’s ruling to stand creates confusion among voters and poll workers and it disregards our successful rollout of Voter ID in the 2016 primary elections,” McCrory said in a statement.
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“The Fourth Circuit’s ruling is just plain wrong and we cannot allow it to stand. We are confident that the Supreme Court will uphold our state’s law and reverse the Fourth Circuit,” he continued.
North Carolina is now represented by Paul Clement, who successfully argued Shelby County v. Holder, the 2013 case that gutted the Voting Rights Act. In its emergency filing, the state asked the Supreme Court to stay the Fourth Circuit’s ruling, arguing that the 2013 GOP-backed elections law “was the product not of racial animus, but of simply policy disagreements between two political parties about what voting measures are best for North Carolina,” according to SCOTUSblog.
North Carolina will petition the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari in the upcoming term. In the meantime, the state awaits the Supreme Court’s ruling on its emergency request for a stay.
A spokesperson for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said on Tuesday that Texas would appeal the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling that Texas’ voter ID law, SB 14, disproportionately burdened Black and Latino voters in violation of the Voting Rights Act, according to the Dallas Morning News.
Writing for the Fifth Circuit majority, Judge Catharina Haynes wrote, “[t]he record shows that drafters and proponents of SB 14 were aware of the likely disproportionate effect of the law on minorities, and that they nonetheless passed the bill without adopting a number of proposed ameliorative measures that might have lessened this impact.”
“The primary concern of this court and the district court should be to ensure that SB 14’s discriminatory effect is ameliorated … in time for the November 2016 election,” Haynes continued.
In response to the Fifth Circuit’s ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos approved a plan that would allow voters without the requisite photo identification to vote in Texas in the November election, absent the Roberts Court stepping in.
Under Ramos’ order, people can vote if they sign a declaration of citizenship and present proof of residence in Texas, such as a paycheck stub, bank statement, or utility bill, according to the Texas Tribune.
Paxton’s spokesperson would not specify whether the state would file an emergency appeal in advance of its petition for writ of certiorari. In order to reinstate the voter ID law, Texas would need to file an emergency appeal and ask the Supreme Court to stay the case, as officials in North Carolina have done.
Republicans in state legislatures that have passed rigid voter ID laws have claimed that such laws are necessary to prevent in-person voter fraud. GOP-led investigations, however, have not turned up any evidence of voter fraud. A study conducted by Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt found a mere 31 credible incidents of voter impersonation out of more than 1 billion votes that were cast nationwide from 2000 through 2014.
“We know that we’ve had this problem that Latinos sometimes don’t vote—they feel intimidated, they feel like maybe their vote doesn’t matter,” Huerta told Rewire. Huerta encouraged people to consider both what is at stake and why their vote might be suppressed in the first place.
Republican nominee Donald Trump launched his campaign for president in June 2015 with a speech notoriously claiming Mexican immigrants to the United States “are bringing drugs, and bringing crime, and their rapists.”
Since then, both Trump’s campaign and the Republican Party at large have continued to rely upon anti-immigrant and anti-Latino rhetoric to drum up support. Take for example, this year’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where Sheriff Joe Arpaio—whose department came under fire earlier this year for racially profiling Latinos—was invited to take the stage to push Trump’s proposed 2,000-mile border wall. Arpaio told the Arizona Republic that Trump’s campaign had worked with the sheriff to finalize his speech.
This June, just a day shy of the anniversary of Trump’s entrance into the presidential race, People for the American Way and CASA in Action hosted an event highlighting what they deemed to be the presumptive Republican nominee’s “Year of Hate.”
Among the advocates speaking at the event was legendary civil rights leader Dolores Huerta, who worked alongside César Chávez in the farm workers’ movement. Speaking by phone the next day with Rewire, Huerta—who has endorsed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton—detailed the importance of Latinos getting involved in the 2016 election, and what she sees as being at stake for the community.
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The Trump campaign is “promoting a culture of violence,” Huerta told Rewire, adding that it “is not just limited to the rallies,” which havesometimes ended in violent incidents, “but when he is attacking Mexicans, and gays, and women, and making fun of disabled people.”
Huerta didn’t just see this kind of rhetoric as harmful to Latinos. When asked about its effect on the country at large, she suggested it affected not only those who already held racist beliefs, but also people living in the communities of color those people may then target. “For those people who are already racist, it sort of reinforces their racism,” she said. “I think people have their own frustrations in their lives and they take it out on immigrants, they take it out on women. And I think that it really endangers so many people of color.”
The inflammatory rhetoric toward people of color by presidential candidates has led to “an alarming level of fear and anxiety among children of color and inflaming racial and ethnic tensions in the classroom,” according to an April report by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). The organization’s analysis of the impact of the 2016 presidential election on classrooms across the country found “an increase in bullying, harassment and intimidation of students whose races, religions or nationalities have been the verbal targets of candidates on the campaign trail.” Though the SPLC did not name Trump in its questions, its survey of about 2,000 K-12 educators elicited up more than 1,000 comments about the Republican nominee, compared to less than 200 comments mentioning other presidential candidates still in the race at that time.
But the 2016 election presents an opportunity for those affected by that violent rhetoric to make their voices heard, said Huerta. “The Latino vote is going to be the decisive vote in terms of who is going to be elected the president of the United States,” she continued, later noting that “we’ve actually seen a resurgence right now of Latinos registering to vote and Latinos becoming citizens.”
However, a desire to vote may not always be enough. Latinos, along with other marginalized groups, face many barriers when it comes to voting due to the onslaught of voter restrictions pushed by conservative lawmakers across the country—a problem only exacerbated by the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling gutting portions of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) meant to safeguard against voter suppression efforts. The 2016 election season will be the first presidential election without those protections.
As many as 875,000 eligible Latino voters could face difficulty voting thanks to new restrictions—such as voter ID laws, proof of citizenship requirements, and shortened early voting periods—put into place since the 2012 elections, a May analysis from the National Association of Elected and Appointed Officials found.
When it comes to restrictions like this, Huerta “absolutely” saw how they could create barriers for those hoping to cast their ballot this year. “They’ve made all of these restrictions that keep especially the Latino population from voting. So it’s very scary,” said Huerta, pointing to laws in states like Texas, which previously had one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country. (The state has since agreed to weaken its law following a judge’s order).
“We know that we’ve had this problem that Latinos sometimes don’t vote—they feel intimidated, they feel like maybe their vote doesn’t matter,” Huerta went on.
Huerta encouraged people to consider both what is at stake and why their voting rights might be targeted in the first place. “What we have to think about is, if they’re doing so much to suppress the vote of the Latino and the African-American community, that means that that vote really counts. It really matters or else why would they be trying to suppress them?”
Appealing to those voters means tapping into the issues Latinos care about. “I think the issues [Latinos care about] are very, very clear,” said Huerta when asked how a presidential candidate could best appeal to the demographic. “I mean, immigration of course is one of the issues that we have, but then education is another one, and health care.”
A February survey conducted jointly by the Washington Post and Univision found that the top five issues Latino voters cared about in the 2016 election cycle were jobs and the economy (33 percent), immigration (17 percent), education (16 percent), health care (11 percent), and terrorism (9 percent).
Another election-year issue that could affect voters is the nomination of a U.S. Supreme Court justice, Huerta added. She pointed out the effect justices have on our society by using the now-decided Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt case as an example. “You know, again, when we think of the presidents, and we think of the Supreme Court and we know that [was] one of the issues that [was] pending in the Supreme Court … whether what they did in Texas … was constitutional or not with all of the restrictions they put on the health clinics,” she said.
Latinas disproportionately face large barriers to reproductive health care. According to Planned Parenthood, they “experience higher rates of reproductive cancers, unintended pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections than most other groups of people.” Those barriers are only exacerbated by laws like Texas’ HB 2, as the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health explained in its amicus brief in the Whole Woman’s Health case prior to the decision: “Texas Latinas already face significant geographic, transportation, infrastructure, and cost challenges in accessing health services.”
“H.B. 2’s impact is acute because of the day-to-day struggles many Latinas encounter when seeking to exercise their reproductive rights,” wrote the organization in its brief. “In Texas, there is a dire shortage of healthcare facilities and providers in predominantly Latino communities. Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured adults in the country, and Texas Latinos are more than twice as likely as whites to be uninsured …. Additionally, the lack of public and private transportation creates a major barrier to accessing health services, especially in rural areas.”
As Rewire’s Tina Vasquez has reported, for undocumented women, the struggle to access care can be even greater.
Given the threats cases like Whole Woman’s Health have posed to reproductive rights, Huerta noted that “Trump’s constant attacks and misogynist statements” should be taken with caution. Trump has repeatedly vowed to appoint anti-choice justices to the Supreme Court if elected.
“The things he says without even thinking about it … it shows what a dangerous individual he can be when it comes to women’s rights and women’s reproductive rights,” said Huerta.
Though the race for the White House was a top concern of Huerta’s, she concluded by noting that it is hardly the only election that matters this year. “I think the other thing is we have to really talk about is, the presidency is really important, but so is the Senate and the Congress,” said Huerta.
“We’ve got to make sure we get good people elected at every level, starting at school board level, city council, supervisors, commissioners, etc. state legislatures …. We’ve got to make sure reasonable people will be elected, and reasonable people are voted into office.”