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Opinion: The Future of the GOP Lies in Suppressing the Latino Vote

Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of State, is a notorious figure in the Latino community. Largely responsible for pushing anti-immigrant legislation like Arizona’s SB1070, Kobach has put his law degree at Yale University to poor use targeting the weak.

Kobach discovered he could ride the wave of anti-immigrant sentiment in his state after the recession following the housing collapse and now he has made it his mission to drum up falsehoods in the pursuit of limiting the political impact of minorities at the ballot box against the Republican Party.

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First the facts. President Donald Trump signed an executive order last Thursday creating a commission aimed at investigating alleged voter fraud called the "Presidential Commission on Election Integrity” and placed Kobach in charge.

By all means, the research on voter fraud shows that this commission is a solution in search of a problem. Lorraine Minnite was one of the first to explore the notion that voter fraud was widespread, and that greater restrictive measures are needed to ensure the integrity of our election system against fraud, but she found that voter fraud was extremely rare.

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In Texas, a group called True the Vote, has been on a quixotic mission to prove that there is a systemic problem with vote fraud, but the result, and intent, has always been a systematic attempt to attack the voter rights of Latinos. Their ham-fisted investigation into vote fraud has actually been an intimidation tactic against Latinos.

David Becker, a former researcher for Pew Research Reports, directed projects in search of evidence that voter fraud was a systemic problem and came up with further evidence of how rare it was. In a widely cited report, Becker found that rather than widespread fraud, what problems that did exist were the result of an antiquated voting system that desperately needs upgrading.

Recently, Becker has pointed to data from several states that have conducted inquiries into voter fraud, such as California, North Carolina, Ohio, and others. The results have all led to the same conclusion, voter fraud is rare. So rare that more people are struck by lightning than commit in-person voter fraud.

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So why are the Republicans so concerned about voter fraud? The simple answer is that these allegations are Chicken Little calls that help scare people into the notion that our voting system is under attack by undocumented immigrants. In turn, they drum up support for policies that result in voter suppression tactics against minorities, such as voter ID and tough registration laws.

The simple fact is that voter suppression works. Study after study has shown that tough voter laws that increase the costs of voting have their greatest impact on those with fewer resources, which has a strong correlation with minorities. And voter suppression can be largely related to lower turnout rates among African Americans and Latinos in important states that tilted the election towards Donald Trump in 2016.

A recent report by Bernard L. Fraga, Sean McElwee, Jesse Rhodes and Brian Schaffner, found that while the decline in black turnout was stark across the country, it was sharpest, on average, in the states that determined the outcome of the election, such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

For instance, Michigan and Wisconsin showed a 12 percent decline in black voter turnout, a number that likely cost Clinton the election. Fraga, McElwee, and Rhodes conclude, “if groups had gone to the polls at the same rates as in 2012, Clinton would likely have won Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin in 2016," but only by “razor thin margins."

Image: US President-elect Donald Trump at Trump International Golf Club
US President-elect Donald Trump (L) and Kris Kobach Kansas Secretary of State pose at the clubhouse of Trump International Golf Club, in Bedminster Township, N.J. Nov. 20, 2016. Peter Foley / EPA

The razor thin margins is why the Republicans are so headstrong on voter “integrity”. With the growing Latino population, razor thin victories will become razor thin losses if they cannot stem the tide of Latino voters.

Despite the attempts to suppress the Latino vote, Latino voters are a growing share of the electorate, although voter suppression laws are helping to slow the pace of growth. As a young population, the Latino voting electorate will only continue to grow and will be a threat to overwhelmingly white voter base of the Republican Party.

Latinos should continue to see these “integrity initiatives” with skepticism, and see them for what they are, an attempt to disenfranchise minority voters.

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