A frame grab from an undated video shows a billboard that features a woman holding a Pennsylvania driver’s license, flanked by the Spanish slogan: Si Quieres Votar Muéstrala (If you want to vote, show it) in Northeast Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. (Romy Varghese/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Study: If you are Latino, you may not get help from election officials

Three graduate students from Harvard University have set out to study how election officials deal with information requests from voters.

The result: E-mails sent from Latino-sounding names were less likely to receive any response from local officials than non-Latinos and received less informative responses.

Julie K. Faller, Noah L. Nathan and Ariel R. White contacted close to 7,000 local election administrations in 46 states to observe how they provided information to different ethnicities on the basis that voter identification requirements raised concerns over minority voter turnout.

“We show that emailers with Latino names were roughly five percentage points less likely to receive a reply to a question about voter ID requirements than non-Latino whites,” states the study.  The authors explained their experiment was done via e-mail to mimic reality, since Americans are increasingly likely to contact government officials via e-mail.  The paper’s authors sent e-mails with aliases like Jose Martinez and Luis Rodriguez for Latino names and Greg Walsh and Jake Mueller for white names.   The e-mails asked the same question from different aliases:  “I’ve been hearing a lot about voter ID laws on the news. What do I need to do to vote?”  They received over 5,300 e-mails from 4,557 election officials.

“Our results indicate that changes to existing voting regulations are likely to diff erentially increase information costs for Latino voters because public officials are less responsive to their inquiries than to non-Latinos,”concludes the report.

Catherine Engelbrecht from True the Vote says the report has its issues.

She argues the report features “a conclusion in desperate search of a viable methodology.” Engelbrecht points to a Pew Hispanic Center study stating 70 percent of Latinos support voter ID laws nationwide and to Latin American countries using photo voter identification being the norm. “The consensus is clear,” she wrote in a statement to NBCLatino, “photo voter identification is widely endorsed by the Latino community.”

NBCLatino’s request for an interview with the paper’s authors was declined.  The paper does state that while they expected greater bias to voter ID questions in states with strict voter ID laws, they did not find evidence in support of that claim.

According to the Brennan Center, 204 bills to expand voting in 45 states were introduced this year, with many measures still pending while 31 states introduced 82 bills seeking to restrict voting access, with 50 bills still pending.

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