Bridging the Latino Voter Registration Gap Is More Crucial Than Ever

By Niyati Shah May 12, 2016

Twenty-three million Latinos are currently eligible to vote in the United States, but less than 14 million are registered, according to a new report by the NALEO Educational Fund.

The report, Latino Voters at Risk: Assessing the Impact of Restrictive Voting Changes in Election 2016, was released yesterday with a panel discussion featuring California’s Secretary of State Alex Padilla and the former governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Fortuño. Although the new report finds that registration rates are low among Latinos, there is some good news. Once registered to vote, Latinos turn out to vote in extremely high numbers: 11 million or almost 82 percent actually voted in the last presidential election.

With such great voter turnout rates, bridging the voter registration gap among eligible and registered Latino voters is more crucial than ever. The NALEO paper sets forth several recommendations for bridging this gap in voter registration; as it turns out, Project Vote has been recommending many of the same policies and practices, including:

  • Offer same-day voter registration. Project Vote issued a paper on the benefits of polling-place same day registration in June 2013.
  • Comprehensively offer voter registration at government agencies. Project Vote continues tirelessly to ensure that voter registration at government agencies, as mandated by the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), is offered both meaningfully and in compliance with the law. When necessary, Project Vote has sued state governments for compliance with the NVRA. Moreover, Project Vote has issued the helpful toolkit on NVRA compliance and a paper on “Automatic Voter Registration: Best Practices.”
  • Provide materials and assistance in Spanish. Project Vote has consistently advocated for, at a minimum, compliance with Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Section 203 of the VRA requires that voting materials and ballots be provided in minority languages in certain counties (and in some cases, statewide). For example, when negotiating settlement agreements to cure violations of the NVRA by government agencies, Project Vote has insisted on providing voter registration materials and assistance in completing voter registration application in Section 203 languages.

Project Vote also recommends the following additional policies and practices that may be helpful in bridging the voter registration gap:

  • Online Voter Registration. Project Vote urges all states to adopt online voter registration. Moreover, Project Vote recommends that online voter registration portals be made available in both English and Spanish.
  • Voter Registration at Naturalization Ceremonies. Project Vote recommends that United States Citizenship and Immigration Services provide access to voter registration at all Naturalization Ceremonies. To that end, Project Vote is engaged in research to determine where USCIS can increase efforts to ensure that voter registration is offered. Project Vote plans to advocate that USCIS make every effort to provide voter registration at all Naturalization Ceremonies. This is especially significant in the Latino community where, as the NALEO report finds, naturalized U.S. citizens vote at higher rates than native-born Latinos.

As a presidential election season is upon us, now is the time to make voter registration accessible to all citizens.