It’s Apathy: Why Clinton is Wrong on Voter ID Laws

Hovver logoBy Alex Gonzalez

Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers a speech at Texas Southern University in Houston, June 4, 2015.

In a speech in Texas on Thursday, Hillary Clinton for the first time called out Perry — along with three other GOP presidential hopefuls — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — for their support for voter ID laws and opposition to early voting. But she is wrong to suggest that Voter ID Laws are the chief problem with voter turnout, especially among Latinos and blacks voters. No data exist to support Clinton’s argument of vote suppression; so Latino voters should be wary of any Democrat politicians that are willing to promote the idea that Latinos are being victimized by Voter ID laws.  Why is this bad? Because it does not addresses the real problem, apathy among Latino voters.

I am not suggesting that there is no harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric in some circles, or that there is no voter suppression; the veneers of American politics if filled with those facts – from the Protestant wanting to suppress the Irish catholic vote, to Southerners wanting to suppress the black vote. There is abundance of evidence that underlines that in the southwest, states have codified laws to discourage the Latino vote (Mexican-Americans). So voter suppression is part of American politics, let’s not be naïve about it.

Cal Jillson, an well-known authority in Texas politics and policy, wrote in his book Lone Star Tarnished:

Race and ethnicity have been profoundly important in American and Texas history. Distinctions of race and ethnicity were written into every U.S. immigration statute from the 1790s through the 1950s and remain central to our discussions of immigration today. Similarly, Texas used its constitutions and laws to define who was welcomed, who was excluded, and with what degree of force.

The argument in the book is that there has been legal hindrances to discourage Mexican-American from voting. And that is the history of the state. And these were legal and political codes promoted by both Republicans and Dixiecrats in the past.

So the fact is that the history of politics in Texas shows that in the past, legal codes discouraged the Latino vote. But that is history. If in fact, today, there is voter suppression in places like Texas, and other states, such laws are not what is hurting the Latino community. It is the idleness, or apathy, among Latino voters that is really at fault.

Two months ago, the Economist had 15-page especial report about Hispanics. One article titled “is not our thing” underscoring that Turnout among Hispanics is low, and maybe that is why Democrats flopped in Texas.

In part, Hispanics tend to stay away from the polls because many adults are non-citizens, and those who are eligible to vote are mostly very young and have low incomes. These traits are associated with a low turnout among all ethnic groups.

Maybe if Clinton would have been more honest about this “cultural problem” – apathy- that message would have resonated better in communities in Texas better, other than taking political jabs at Gov. Perry. The issue of immigration is going to be at the hot wedge issue for GOP candidates wanting to stir the base for the GOP primary. However, Latinos have the power and the numbers to change the tone on immigration and, if they would vote more. But Latinos suffer from a self-inflicted wound: voter apathy. See graphs below.

The election of 2014 in Texas, turnout was 4% lower than it was in the mid-term of 2010. But this drop in turnout among voter was across, ethnic, racial and age. White Democrats, Youngsters and Latinos did not come out to vote. And, there was no single argument suggesting that this dismal turnout was due to Voter ID laws. Moreover, there were no complaints filed against voter disenfranchising in the state. Thus, the argument openly acknowledged by Latino community leader in both parties is that apathy is the true culprit.

For example, in the race for governor between Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis, Davis received 1,832,254 (38.9%) while Abbott got 2,790,227 (59.3%). In the race for Lt. Governor between Dan Patrick and Leticia Van de Putte, Patrick got 2,718,406 votes (58.1%) while Van de Putte received only 1,810,720 (38.7%). By time of the mid-term election of 2014, the Texas Secretary of State reported a voter registration of 14,025,441.

Van de Putte was supposed to mobilize Latino voters, but this attempt was a failure because Latino voter did not come out to vote for one of their “own,” and instead Patrick got elected as Lt. Governor by straight-ticket message; he benefited greatly by Abbott’s campaign. So the problem here was associated more with voter apathy than voter “disenfranchisement.”

So Latino voters should question the real motives Democrat leader who instead of encouraging Latino voters to be more engage in the political process insist in portray Latino voters as victims.

I made these graphs showing the demographic Latino “wave” and how many millions are eligible to vote. The graph at the bottom shows Latino participation in presidential and mid-term election. The fact is that voter turnout among Latinos is dismal, especially in mid-terms elections.

Pew turnout
( Note: the U.S. Census will release the actual numbers on turnout in late June. The 7.6 million is an exponential estimate based on previous trends )

There is no reasonable argument, other than apathy, to explain how out 25 million of eligible voter, only about 7.6 million voted in 2014 and 11 million in 2012. (Note: the U.S. Census will release the actual numbers on turnout in late April or early May. the 7.6 million is an exponential estimate based on previous trends)

Thus, Latinos have to take responsibility for this, because as it stands, apathy is the greatest enemy of Latinos in Texas and the U.S. And voting apathy is a greater enemy than any tea party group, more detrimental the voter ID laws and redistricting, and more detrimental than populist tea party politicians like Ted Cruz that uses immigration to stir the base. Sure Democrats love to blame the tea party, but Latinos need to be held accountable for their apathy as well. Latino voters have no one to blame but themselves.

Latinos have YOUNG VOTERS problem.

With its diverse population, and correspondingly lower education and income levels, Texas abounds in factors that dampen turnout. Chief among them: politically apathetic youngsters.

In the 2014 mid-term election, only about 12% of voters between the ages of 18 to 29 voted. So this is not only Latino apathy problem but a young problem also because about 33 % of all those Latinos eligible to vote are in that age bracket. According to the Pew Hispanic:

Low voter participation rates among Hispanics are due to many factors. First, the relative youth of the Hispanic population may impact overall Hispanic voter turnout rates. Young people turn out at rates lower than that of older eligible voters. This is true among Hispanics….young people are a larger share of eligible voters than they are among other groups. In 2014, 33% of Hispanic eligible voters are ages 18 to 29. By comparison, among white eligible voters, 18% are in that age group.

Perhaps Latinos need to be wary of Democrats like Clinton, black leaders like Al Sharpton and white progressive liberals that continue to perpetuate the idea that Latinos are a victimized needy minority. The politics of “victim-hood” is bad for Hispanics because once Hispanic-Americans are socially categorized as a needy brown minority; their opportunities are limited to what they can achieve under that needy minority stigma; instead, they need to become active voters.

There are enough Latino voters in Texas, almost 5.5 million by the time of the presidential election of 2016, to make any significant changes to any bill they deemed detrimental to their communities, or bad for “democracy” as Clinton called it. But for that occur, Latinos in the state will have to become more engaged in the political process and stop feeling like victims.

MeAlex Gonzalez  is a political Analyst and Political Director for Latinos Ready To Vote.   comments to



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