It never becomes the top-shelf, salient issue in American elections until after one or two get stolen. But the permanent discriminated class we’re building out of voter suppression laws should be the headline story to the party that stands to lose the most from the situation. Voter registration among Hispanics and African-Americans has dropped significantly since 2008.
The number of black and Hispanic registered voters has fallen sharply since 2008, posing a serious challenge to the Obama campaign in an election that could turn on the participation of minority voters.
In the 2008 election, robust turnout among black and Latino voters is credited with putting Obama over the top in key swing states, including Virginia and New Mexico.
Voter rolls typically shrink in non-presidential election years and registrations among whites fell at roughly the same rate, but this is the first time in nearly four decades that the number of registered Hispanics has dropped significantly.
That figure fell 5 percent across the country, to about 11 million, according to the Census Bureau. But in some politically important swing states, the decline among Hispanics, who are considered critical in the 2012 presidential contest, is much higher: just over 28 percent in New Mexico, for example, and about 10 percent in Florida.
The article posits a number of theories for why registration has dropped. But let’s flip the script for a second. This is one of the only industrialized countries in the world that does not have universal voter registration that is not incumbent on individual action. Another facet of our exceptional system is the loss of rights to most convicted felons, who in a form of a modern-day Jim Crow forfeit their ability to vote (among many other rights) in subsequent years. As we know, felon disenfranchisement disproportionately targets the African-American and Hispanic communities, particularly through the war on drugs, where this forfeiture of rights can result from wholly non-violent actions like possession.
So before you get into any of the factors for this drop in the voter rolls, you have to take into account how the system is rigged against minority voters as a matter of course, simply because it is made more difficult to register to vote here than practically anywhere in the world, and because ex-cons get their rights stripped from them. Then you can add all the additional factors: the mass foreclosures of the past several years or moving to find work puts the burden on the voter to re-register at a new address, and then all the voter suppression laws that make it harder to register voters on a mass scale, as well as harder to vote without an approved ID, or harder to vote on a day other than Election Day through early voting or permanent absentee vote-by-mail.
The Obama campaign claimed that the methodology of the story was flawed, and that, at a similar point in the campaign cycle, more people are registered. This seems like a head-in-the-sand mentality. The fact that anyone in America is unregistered to vote should be a source of shame, and there ought to be a party working to rectify that injustice. But universal voter registration, let alone the use of all resources to ensure maximum voter turnout (like not holding the election on a Tuesday, for example), is just not on the national agenda. And the assumption that anyone convicted of a crime at any point in their lives should be stripped of all of their rights as a citizen for the future is still sadly an unchallenged belief.