As the electoral struggle shifts west, accusations of racism ensue

AUSTIN, Texas – The Arizona legislature was debating one of many Republican proposals to recast the vote when GOP Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita said she had had enough.

“I don’t like being labeled as supporting discriminatory laws!” she told Democrats, who say the legislation will hurt Latino and Native American voters.

But Democratic Senator Martin Quezada, a Latino from Phoenix, did not back down. “It will hurt my community. It will hurt my neighborhood.

“And,” he continued, “we’re going to keep talking about it.”

Indeed, Democrats are stepping up their accusations that Republican pressure for stricter state voting laws is designed to make it difficult for people of color to vote. As the fight goes from Deep south at South West, this puts more emphasis on the impact the proposals would have on Latin American and Native American voters – groups with distinct histories of fighting for the right to vote.

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“Arizona, Texas and several southwestern states have a long and sordid history of electoral repression, not only against African Americans but also against Latinos,” said Domingo Garcia, president of the League of Latino Citizens -americans united. Tackling the new ballot bills, he added, “is our number one priority.

But Republican lawmakers, after seeing how Democrats have managed to label GOP-backed legislation in Georgia as racist, are fighting back. They blasted Democrats for what they say are lies about the plans. Texas Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick last week accused opponents of “borderline racial harassment.”

The debate comes amid a larger battle for the allegiance of Latino voters. While most Latinos are Democrats overall, then President Donald Trump, a Republican, made gains among Latinos last year. Some Democrats see the voting debate as a chance to win those voters over.

Republicans across the country have made hundreds of new proposals to tighten election and election laws – reacting to Trump’s false insistence that he was denied re-election due to voter fraud. Trump and his supporters have lost more than 50 court cases challenging the election, and repeated audits have found no significant fraud. But Trump continued to claim widespread wrongdoing.

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The first major legislative battle took place in the swing state of Georgia, where Republican lawmakers proposed, among other measures, to end early voting on Sunday, when many black voters cast their ballot. This provision was removed from the final law, but President Joe Biden, a Democrat, still condemns the measure as “Jim Crow in the 21st century”, a reference to laws that southern states once used to prevent black citizens from voting.

Arizona and Texas, both of which are considering new election laws now, have their own history of racial discrimination in the ballot.

Beginning in the early 20th century, Arizona required voters to take English literacy tests, a requirement only prohibited in the 1965 Civil Rights Act. In 1960, the future Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, William Rehnquist, helped launch Operation Eagle Eye, a poll-watching operation that critics said was aimed at intimidating Latin American voters.

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Texas also used literacy tests to limit the participation of Latin Americans. At the start of the 20th century, the state formed groups such as the Ballot Purification League to remove Latinos from the electoral rolls. Crowds of armed whites invaded Mexican-American voting areas as recently as 1928.

Today, the Republican proposals under consideration in Texas target diverse and democratic cities in the state. The bills would limit polling stations in counties of more than one million people by using a formula that includes the number of eligible voters per region. This could lead to longer queues to vote, especially in areas with high immigrant density. All local election officials would be prohibited from facilitating voting by sending postal ballot requests to voters or establishing drive-thru polling places. Partisan observers would be allowed to film voters up to, but not included in, when they fill out their ballots.

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No law explicitly mentions race, but voting rights groups note that there is a long history of using what appear to be race-neutral voting restrictions that fall hardest on voters colored.

“These bills are essentially about race. They use language that has always been associated with racist electoral measures, ”said Nina Perales, vice president of litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Texas was one of the hubs of a phenomenon that surprised many analysts in November: a slide of Latino voters into Trump’s column. Although the majority of Texas Latinos had always voted Democratic, the shift to the right was noticeable, especially in rural areas. Analysis by Democratic group Equis Research found Trump gained 12 percentage points in the largely Hispanic Rio Grande valley.

This analysis also revealed that Trump had gained ground in the heavily Latino neighborhoods of Arizona, but less than in other parts of the country.

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Now, Democrat-aligned groups are hoping the new voting push will give them an opening with Latinos who have leaned towards Trump.

“If their vote was so important to these lawmakers, if their voice, if their opinions, if their views, were so important to these lawmakers, then why are they passing bills that make it harder to count their votes?” ? ” asked Gloria Gonzales-Dholakia, executive director of the Hispanic advocacy group Jolt Action, which plans to discuss electoral restrictions with Latinos in the upcoming awareness campaign.

In Arizona, there are two main ballot bills on the table. The first would remove people from the state’s postal voting list if they missed two consecutive election cycles and do not respond to a postcard notification. Democrats say that of the 150,000 voters who could face dismissal as a result of this legislation, as many as a third are Latin Americans.

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The other main voting proposal would require a voter to have a driver’s license number to vote by mail – or, for those who don’t, a voter identification number. But in some counties in Arizona, this is only available with a driver’s license number. Activists and Democrats say Latinos and especially Native Americans – a key Democratic voting bloc in the state – are less likely to have licenses.

Latino groups such as Mi Familia Vota and Poder Latinx have condemned the proposals as racist, and activists have repeatedly testified before the Arizona Legislature – sometimes so vehemently that they have been shut down by Republicans for allegedly violating parliamentary rules against questioning the integrity of legislators. .

Republican Representative John Kavanagh, chairman of the Arizona House Government and Elections committee, said the ID number bill was being rewritten and there was no no racist intent on his side of the political aisle. He noted that Republicans have killed many of the more controversial proposals, including one to disqualify mail-in ballots that arrive after the Friday before polling day and one that would have allowed the Legislature to override it. will of voters and select state voters in a presidential race.

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He said legislation to remove people from the mailing list would only reduce voters who have moved or died. “Their Jim Crow argument is not true and is a vicious political lie to deceive the public,” Kavanagh said of Democrats.

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Riccardi reported from Denver. Associated Press writer Jonathan J. Cooper in Phoenix contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.


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