Growth Potential for Latino Voting Population Detailed

As Texas readies for a summer battle against the U.S. Department of Justice over the state’s voter ID law, Latinos — who opponents of the law say will be most affected — have the potential to increase the state’s voter rolls by more than 2 million people, a new report says.

About 2.15 million voting-age Latinos in Texas who are U.S. citizens are not registered to cast a ballot, according to a report released by the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based policy research and educational institute. The left-leaning organization also posits that about 880,000 legal permanent residents will be eligible to vote in November if they receive their citizenship before the Nov. 6 general election. Eligible Texans have until Oct. 9 to register to vote. 

The center says the number of unregistered Latino voters exceeds the number of votes — 950,695 — by which 2008 Republican presidential nominee, U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., defeated then-Sen. Barack Obama in the Lone Star State.

The report's data on legal residents came from the Department of Homeland Security, and the figures on unregistered Latinos was made by looking at the percentage of unregistered eligible voters and extrapolating that data to the Latino population, said Philip Wolgin, an immigration policy analyst with the Center for American Progress.

“So the question between now and the election is, what happens? Are people about to go out and get them registered?” Wolgin said.

 

The focus of the Latino vote in Texas has been two-tiered. On one level, opponents of the state’s voter ID law are awaiting a federal panel’s decision on whether to uphold the state’s Senate Bill 14, which requires that voters furnish a photo ID to cast a ballot. Although backers say the law will be a safeguard for integrity in elections, opponents have said the measure will hurt minorities and seniors. That showdown begins July 9 and is the latest chapter in a months-long battle between the state and the Obama administration.

In March, after eight months of wrangling between the state and the federal government over whether the voter ID law would disenfranchise voters, the Department of Justice denied the state’s request for preclearance in March. Because Texas is subject to Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act, the Department of Justice or the federal courts have the authority to review laws that would affect voter participation. Fifteen other states are also subject to the preclearance rule.

The state had sued the department in January to have its voter ID law implemented, however, claiming that other states with similar laws had been allowed to enact their legislation. That case will determine whether or not the law will be in effect for the November election.

The other focus has been on how Latinos in Texas will vote. The demographic is often assumed to be loyal to the Democratic Party, but party leaders of both stripes have ramped up their efforts to lure more Hispanics to their side. Republicans say they have begun making inroads among Latinos, as seen in the Texas House, which now has seven lawmakers of Hispanic descent. But Democrats attribute that more to the GOP wave that swept the entire country in 2010. They point to the fact that at least three of those members won’t be back and that two more face tough runoffs.

Voter ID Law

After a brief period in which it was unclear if the voter ID case would be settled before the November election, there has been significant progress in the matter.

Attorney General Greg Abbott had filed an order to prevent state lawmakers from being deposed in the preclearance case, but Chad Dunn, an attorney representing some of the plaintiffs in that case, said Abbott stood down on that order. Dunn recently deposed bill author state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, and the House sponsor of the bill, state Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring.

“I can say that the evidence is pretty overwhelming from our perspective, and theirs, that this law was passed with a discriminatory intent,” Dunn said. “It was passed when the Legislature knew or, with minor effort, would have known that it was going to have a severe and dramatic consequence on Latinos and African-American voters.”

Lauren Bean, a deputy communications director in Abbott’s office, declined to comment on the depositions, but she said the office decided to move forward in the interest of resolving the issue in time for the general election.

“Neither legislators nor their staff have waived legislative privilege. In order to move the case forward without delay, legislators and their staff agreed to allow depositions to proceed,” she said. “But [lawmakers] reserve the right to object to any questions that solicit privileged information."

Aside from Fraser and Harless, several more lawmakers and staff members have or will be deposed by attorneys for the state, the federal government or interveners in the case.

The list includes: House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio; state Reps. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg; Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball; Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto; Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth; Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton; Jose Aliseda, R-Beeville; Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock; Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas; and Todd Smith, R-Bedford; Sens. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands; Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio; Dan Patrick, R-Houston; Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth; Rodney Ellis, D-Houston; and former Sen. Ken Armbrister. Several staff members will also be deposed.

 

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.