By Miguel De La Torre
At 53, I am old enough to remember a pre-Civil Rights era when all types of shenanigans were employed to prevent certain groups of people (predominantly African-Americans) from voting. Heavily populated black districts would elect Klan members through legal means of literacy tests, competency tests or poll taxes. For the vast majority of the history of this democracy, methods were legally employed to disenfranchise a major portion of the electorate.
One would hope that this country has moved to greater inclusiveness since those days of black electoral repression. After all, how can we declare to be the world’s beacon for democracy when we refuse to practice it at home?
Unfortunately, our hypocrisy is evident in recent legislative initiatives being implemented in states like Florida. The trend is highly troublesome in light of this nation’s oppressive history at the voting booths.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott stirred recent controversy by attempting to purge the state’s voting rolls of those believed to be non-citizens. The U.S. Department of Justice sued, claiming Florida’s program violates voter registration laws. The governor claims the purge is necessary to prevent illegal voters, even though no evidence exists that undocumented immigrants are actually registering to vote.
Last year Florida’s Republican-led Legislature passed draconian rules for organizations that register voters, including a requirement that they turn in registration applications within 48 hours of the time they are signed or face fines. After the law took effect, 81,471 fewer Floridians registered to vote than during the same period before the 2008 presidential election. Those most affected by such legislative actions are blacks, the poor and especially Hispanics.
The motivation behind such restrictive electoral laws is likely the rapidly changing demographics of the nation. According to the Census Bureau, minorities accounted for 92 percent of the nation’s population growth in the decade that ended in 2010. By July 2011, white births ceased to be the majority for the first time since the European colonization of what would become the United States.
Although whites will continue to be the majority for some time, a trend is developing where the white majority will eventually become the minority. White legislators must be concerned with a future non-white America.
Specifically, Latinos witnessed a 43 percent increase in population between 2000 and 2010. They presently represent the largest minority group in 25 states and a majority in 82 counties. And these figures don’t even include the undocumented at about 9 million strong!
Presently, the U.S. is the second largest Hispanic country in the world, slightly trailing Mexico. According to the Census Bureau’s projections, by 2050 Latinos will be 132.8 million strong, or 30 percent of the U.S. population.
These changing demographics are already impacting this year’s presidential election. Some GOP strategists think their party has little chance for success in battleground states such as Colorado, Nevada and Virginia if Romney doesn’t win close to 40 percent of the Hispanic vote.
If Obama picks up these states, in addition to those states that are solid or leaning Democrat, he would be at 265 electoral votes, just five short of the needed 270. According to Fox News (not necessarily known for its fair and balanced approach) Romney is polling at 22 percent in Colorado, 20 percent in Nevada and 28 percent in Virginia. Even Arizona, a Republican-leaning state, is starting to come into play for Obama, because of an 18 percent Latino approval of Romney.
Hence a state like Florida with its 29 electoral votes, which according to an NBC-Marist poll has Obama barely ahead of Romney at 48 percent to 44 percent, becomes crucial if Romney wishes to remain viable. In Florida, Hispanic approval of Romney is at 37 percent, thanks mainly to the Republican-leaning Cuban-American vote.
One way to increase Romney’s chances of success is to eliminate from the voting rolls those more likely to vote for Obama — blacks, Hispanics and the poor. After all, in 2000, under the leadership of Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida purged from its rolls some 173,000 voters, many who were indeed eligible, helping his brother George clinch the presidency.
How can the developing white minority hold on to power to the detriment of the emerging “colored” America? One way of forestalling the inevitable is to restrict and limit the participation of people of color in the voting process, a continuation of this country’s legacy.
In the short run, such dirty tricks may succeed. Romney might defeat Obama despite strong opposition from the vast majority of people of color. But he and the right-wing conservative America he represents are on the wrong side of history. As communities of color become more emboldened, they will force this nation to live up to its democratic rhetoric and pluralist ideals.
I see that day coming and expect to experience this new dawn. It is indeed a wonderful thing to see as the new day of the Lord approaches.