In an effort to defend her state’s controversial new voter ID law last year, Texas State Rep. Debbie Riddle offered a memory.
She’d once seen a Latino woman at a polling place who needed assistance because she couldn’t speak English and seemed unfamiliar with the process, Riddle recalled during a legal deposition.
The law was being challenged by the federal government, and Riddle was asked to offer specific incidents of voter fraud that justified the new rules.
Riddle, a Republican who has been a leader of Texas’s efforts to make voting harder, said she had no idea whether the woman she saw that day was a citizen or not, or even whether she had ultimately voted.
“She was not only limited in English, she really didn’t know any English,” Riddle recalled. Riddle said the incident left her “perplexed [as to] how anyone could come in and attempt to vote and have just a complete disconnect of the entire process.”
Riddle’s suspicions at the ballot box put her at the cutting edge of her party’s strategy on voting rights. While the national GOP has said it will focus on reaching out to Latinos, Republicans on the ground have taken a very different tack: In recent years, a host of voter suppression measures across the country—from purges of voter rolls, to citizenship requirements to ID laws like the one Riddle backed in Texas—have appeared to target Latinos.
“Voter suppression laws and policies threaten to relegate Latino voters to second-class citizenship and impede their ability to participate fully in American democracy,” warned a 2012 report on Latino voter disenfranchisement by the Advancement Project, a civil-rights group.
Since the civil-rights movement, the public face of voter disenfranchisement has generally been black. African-Americans have been more systematically victimized by efforts to restrict voting than any other group. But while blacks last year appeared to recognize that they were the targets of restrictions on voting, and responded by turning out at a rate few pollsters expected, advocates for Latinos say many don’t yet understand that their rights are at risk.
“There is a lot more work to do in the Hispanic community to get them to connect the dots between the voter suppression movement and their emerging political power,” Juan Cartagena, the president of Latino Justice, told MSNBC.
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