October 7th, 2012
10:47 AM ET

Latino voter registration efforts running out of time in Pennsylvania

Editor’s note: In America follows the fight to win an essential voting bloc in Nevada, a battleground state with one of the fastest-growing Latino populations in the nation. Soledad O’Brien reports in “Latino in America: Courting Their Vote” on CNN TV at 8 p.m. ET Sunday.

By Soledad O'Brien with Rose Arce and Khara Lewin, CNN

In the days before a voter registration deadline, Latino groups are usually wrapping up their outreach efforts aimed at driving potential voters to the polls on Election Day. But this election season, Rafael Collazo led a sparse team of volunteers into the streets of Philadelphia, scrambling to get voters he wishes he could have signed up months ago.

"We sort of plan our campaign so that we're not in an extreme rush to the very end," said Collazo, who works for the National Council of La Raza. But this year, his tiny team is running into row houses dotted with Puerto Rican flags, shouting in English and Spanish about the need to register and vote. Team members have visited high schools and tried to rally apathetic youth who would be voting for the first time, if only they would register with the state.

The efforts were delayed because, instead of just registering voters, La Raza and other Latino voter registration groups spent months making sure voters would have the right IDs to show at the polls - though that statewide requirement was put on hold by a judge last week.

Judge blocks Pennsylvania voter ID law for November election

So after months of driving people to state offices to get IDs, enduring long lines at motor vehicle departments, and looking for elusive paperwork, these community organizations are now back to registering voters, just a few days before the Pennsylvania deadline. The state accepts new registrants through Tuesday. Monday is Columbus Day, a federal holiday.

"We've never seen such an unprecedented experience as 2012," said Cynthia Figueroa, director of Congreso, which works in Pennsylvania Latino communities. "What was created around the voter IDs and the emphasizing that there was even any voter ID fraud, then the subsequent laws that were passed, created tremendous barriers for individuals in the community. The work and energy that I've seen or the attention around the elections this year, I've never experienced in the time that I have been working in this community."

Activists like Collazo and Figueroa feel the loss of time registering voters acutely this year.

The Pew Hispanic Center released data showing 24 million Latinos are of voting age, a 22% jump over 2008, when Latino turnout came in just under 50%. But the same study estimated that as many as 600,000 had fallen off the voter rolls between 2008 and 2010. Activists saw an opportunity to get Latino voters back into the election process in a way that would increase their political power.

The evolution of the voting process in the last few months sheds light on why Latino organizations doing voter registration may have fallen off track. Registering and voting in Pennsylvania used to be less complicated. As recently as this past spring, you just filled out a registration form and mailed it to your county. Only new voters were asked for identification.

Then in March, the controversial voter ID law was passed by Pennsylvania's Republican-dominated legislature. The law meant that to vote in Pennsylvania, you had to  present a Pennsylvania drivers license, a state nondriver photo ID, or a passport, military, college or nursing home ID with a photograph and expiration date. The requirement set off accusations that the law was created to suppress minority voters because they were less likely to have those forms of identification. The Advancement Project estimated that one in six Latinos in Pennsylvania might not have the right ID when they showed up at the polls.

Those accusations intensified in June when Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, listing legislative victories for his party, said: "Voter ID, which is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania: Done."  The ACLU and other voting rights organizations sued.

Pennsylvania lawmaker sparks fire over voter ID comment

Latino activists focused on getting people the right ID and hoped that an added requirement wouldn't further deepen voter apathy.

"A lot of the elders and individuals who don't own their own cars, who have difficulty getting around, their ability to travel back and forth and ensure that they have accurate and proper documentation, to not be turned around at one of the Department of Motor Vehicles places who is issuing their photo IDs, was a challenge in and of itself," Figueroa said. "Then we saw a lot of people struggling with not understanding the law once it was introduced, changed a number of times, and it was a 'Who's on first?'"

Their biggest challenges were with the elderly and the young, who often did not have the right identification, nor the resources and time to get it.

"A lot of the centers for the elderly may not have records, accurate records, of where they were born. So that presented another level of frustration for the patient. The other aspect was now that you have all of this information, what are things that are considered as official residency, proof of residency. That kept changing," said Miguel Concepcion, a civic engagement coordinator with the Delaware Valley Community Health Center.

It kept changing because the state made efforts to expand what qualifies as an acceptable ID. Ron Ruman, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of State, said Pennsylvania was now accepting birth certificates and proofs of residency like utility bills. That helped some Latino voters, but not others.

"The Latino community is a very young community in the sense of our growth in the United States. Some of our folks don't own homes. They rent, they lease and they have cell phone bills. Cell phone bills were not an acceptable document or an acceptable bill of proof of address," said Concepcion.

Concepcion, who is usually out registering voters, ended up seeking ID for himself. He had lost his driver's license months ago and had not rushed out to get another because he lives in Philadelphia, where public transit makes it possible to get around without driving. He had credit cards and other ID but nothing that qualified. So he tried to get his birth certificate so he could start the process of getting an ID.

But Concepcion got tripped up by something affecting all Puerto Ricans born on the island. Puerto Rico is in the process of issuing new birth certificates for everyone, a complicated process that he found many other Pennsylvania Latinos were facing. "We had scheduled a family trip to Puerto Rico, not specifically for the purpose of getting my birth certificate, but ended up taking a lot of time just to get my birth certificate. Because I had requested it online, I was given a period of three weeks, which for me was unacceptable," he said. Concepcion finally got it, but by then the state had expanded the rules to include many more forms of ID - so he didn't need it after all.

Latino organizations resumed voter registration drives with limited staffs and budgets, adding on the task of driving people who didn't have ID to state offices where they could get one. "The many changes that have taken place and the implementation slowed us down," said Concepcion. "We were at a meeting one time where (when) we walked in there were seven identifications. By the time that meeting finished an hour later, we find out that there was an eighth identification that was coming out," he said.

John Fund, who authored a book on voter fraud, "Who's Counting," said the voter ID laws in Pennsylvania "not only protect against voter impersonation, they protect against people voting twice, they protect against people voting in more than one state, ... against noncitizens voting, because  they're much less likely to show up with an ID or have an ID.  So it does impact the integrity of the election."

Thirty states besides Pennsylvania have voter ID rules, most allowing people without ID to fill out provisional ballots if they show up at the polls with identification that doesn't qualify. Pennsylvania was one of five states whose laws were challenged in court.

Ruman said there has been no evidence of widespread past voter fraud and that state officials have been working on getting voters to get identification to carry forward with the new law. When a Pennsylvania judge ruled Tuesday that state officials could not enforce the new law for this presidential election, Latino activists were only somewhat pleased. Figueroa said it's good for Latinos to get ID as a long-term goal, but she wishes making that happen had not taken the place of registering voters in a crucial election. She lamented the loss of time.

"The Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition and Congreso have been working hard to make sure that when we're talking about the voter ID laws, we're simultaneously talking about registration.  There's been so much energy around the voter ID law that just looking at registering new voters and ensuring everybody's prepared to vote, unfortunately I don't think was the top priority," she said.

"And the fact that post the Columbus Day holiday is really the deadline in Pennsylvania to be registered to vote is a challenge. ... The individuals we may have not reached because we were focusing energy and time in terms of this really much greater significant civil rights issue - I hope doesn't have an impact."

Filed under: 2012 Election • Latino in America • Politics • Who we are
soundoff (299 Responses)
  1. Joe

    Soledad you are an idiot

    October 8, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse |
  2. WhiteLatino

    According to the Pew Hispanic survey, 36% of Latinos identify their race as white. Remember, Hispanic/Latino is an ethnicity, not a race.

    October 8, 2012 at 8:15 am | Report abuse |
  3. treblehook66

    Does Soledad O'Brien do anything past race baiting stories for CNN. A story on La Raza protecting the integrity of US elections? Seriously?

    October 8, 2012 at 6:15 am | Report abuse |
  4. Don

    Hispanics and Asian-Americans in general are law-abiding, family-orientated and very hard working. These traits will eventually disqualify them from the Socialist dominated Democratic party. Already I have seen liberal descriptions of minorities as "Non-Asian minorities." (As the new Hispanic description as "Non-white Hispanics." )
    Eventually we will realize that our Marxist controlled government are in the process of making divisions between Asians, Hispanics, Whites and Blacks as a control mechanism.

    October 8, 2012 at 5:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Jorge

      Don, hey, as long as Republicans cut the doublespeak and cosseting of their rich job-outsourcing campaign contributors so that we can stay in gainful employment, instead of sikking their tea-party dogs on us, we're OK. But as I'm an American citizen, My wife and I are not going to ever vote for anybody who even THINKS of portraying my family or myself as children of a lesser God, it is what it is...

      October 8, 2012 at 8:23 am | Report abuse |
  5. Trank

    Forget PA, look at the GOP voter fraud in Florida. They want to push these voter fraud laws, yet they are the ones doing it. Now in over 10 counties.

    October 8, 2012 at 12:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Mike7

      IF the democrats did not bus voters around to different precients so they could vote 3 or 4 times, without any identification, this would not even be an issue. Providing voter I.D. is something that we need in all 50 states to ensure 1 vote per person, regardless of party.

      October 8, 2012 at 6:13 am | Report abuse |
      • Ganesh

        Voter Fraud is miniscule.

        Organized and Deliberate voter Fraud is near zero

        What part of this proven fact is hard to Understand... unless it is a case of Fox News all the time ?

        200 blog letters...all dumb.

        October 8, 2012 at 6:52 am | Report abuse |
  6. edward from Dallas

    Latinos race? This is a RACE story?

    October 8, 2012 at 12:15 am | Report abuse |
  7. ron

    The GOP stole it before...not this time REGISTER YOUR VOTE.

    October 7, 2012 at 11:54 pm | Report abuse |
  8. reader10

    Thats right no GOP no more white America.Just another BANANA Republic ruled by drug lords and a
    corrupt government.Now where are you going now.

    October 7, 2012 at 11:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jorge

      I've been sent to work in schools in U.S. neighborhoods, where the only meal many of the kids get all day is the free assisted lunch in the cafeteria, only two-thirds of them will graduate and the career expectations of half of them involve illicit activity on the streets, that make most of the so-called corrupt, drug-infested banana republics that you talk about look like Eden. I'd also never seen an entire mall closed down and turned to hayseed because of crime until I came back to the U.S.; neither had I ever heard of a church minister telling his flock that they would all go to hell if they voted for a certain political candidate, until I lived in the Deep South. I lived out my teenage years and young adulthood in one of those so-called "banana republics", where I was never mugged, never went hungry, never got called out because of my skin color or origin. I brought my daughter to the U.S. so that she could share in the American experience, as I did when I was a child born in NYC, and go to an American college if that was her choice. She has great grades but she has seen enough, she would rather go back home (and I after I soon retire) to our chosen little "banana republic".

      October 8, 2012 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
  9. pbernasc

    I think it is a fantastic idea by he GOP to frustrate legitimate voters out of voting, cause they will not forget and in 20 years from now, there won't be any GOP nor a white only America .. YEAH, it's a good day.

    October 7, 2012 at 11:09 pm | Report abuse |
  10. tim

    I want an Obama phone!!!

    October 7, 2012 at 11:08 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Flabbergasted

    The article trots out a guy named Concepcion. Um, if you lost your drivers license, why not just get it replaced rather than worry about birth certificates etc. Clearly, the people against Voter I.D. are struggling to make an argument.

    "Concepcion, who is usually out registering voters, ended up seeking ID for himself. He had lost his driver's license months ago and had not rushed out to get another because he lives in Philadelphia, where public transit makes it possible to get around without driving. He had credit cards and other ID but nothing that qualified. So he tried to get his birth certificate so he could start the process of getting an ID."

    October 7, 2012 at 11:05 pm | Report abuse |
  12. darrenhankins

    Down with the old Guard in with the new.....the last thing this country need is more white republican men

    October 7, 2012 at 11:02 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Hiram Davis

    Illegals voting for illegals. Gotta love that America and it's equal opportunity.

    October 7, 2012 at 10:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • darrenhankins

      The conservative are just made that they could not lie and steal the election....the racist loose again

      October 7, 2012 at 11:00 pm | Report abuse |
  14. linsey

    excuse me, the republicans are making hard, if you are illegal you cannot vote.and for you to know repubs illiterate before you comments even those green card holders called the permanent resident are not allowed to vote, they should be a citizen....the repubs are making to block the voters because for sure these people they tried to block are democrats..mitty and his group are thieves, they are dirty pigs...

    October 7, 2012 at 10:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob Brown

      You know, your comment might be more persuasive if it were written in English.

      October 7, 2012 at 10:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      Linsey, your post is just a collection of non-sensical ramblings. Voting is the last sacred right being an American citizen... you don't need to be a citizen to get SS, Medicare, healthcare, licenses. So why am I an American citizen again? So I can vote for representatives that decide issues based on my beliefs.

      October 7, 2012 at 11:02 pm | Report abuse |
      • linsey

        yes i agree with you but what i am saying idiot repubs if you are not a citizen you will not be allowed to vote, and theese people they tried to block have their rights to register if they are citizens..

        October 7, 2012 at 11:11 pm | Report abuse |
  15. clarinet

    I live in Pennsylvania. Registering to vote, and voting, is about as easy as driving to McDonalds and eating a cheeseburger. The people who have difficulty obviously have something to hide, or are so dim-witted, oh well...

    October 7, 2012 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob - 2

      There's a possibility that some of them are a little slow. Some Americans couldn't drive to McDonald's for a cheeseburger if their lives depended on it, and yet they deserve to be represented and thus deserve to have the vote. Many of these people don't have cars. Would you like to draw the line somewhere in terms of physical and intellectual abilities?

      October 7, 2012 at 10:55 pm | Report abuse |
      • Trank

        well let's first start with passing a test to procreate.

        October 8, 2012 at 12:08 am | Report abuse |
      • ab77

        Not physical, but DEFINITELY intellectual abilities. You should have to pass a basic IQ test or a basic history test to be able to vote.

        October 7, 2012 at 11:14 pm | Report abuse |
  16. fubarObama

    Press 1 for spansih

    October 7, 2012 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
  17. Rhonda

    I'm confused. I'm not arguing the legitimacy of the law...but I have to ask.... none of these people have photo identification? They've never opened bank accounts which require identification? They've never driven a car which requires i.d.? They've never cashed a paycheck somewhere that required some sort of photo id? They've gone through their ENTIRE lives without photo identification? Seriously? I just don't buy it. I'm sorry.

    October 7, 2012 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rhonda

      I feel badly for these people...unable to buy beer or smokes because they don't have ID. Give me a break.

      October 7, 2012 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
      • ab77

        Most people in their 50s and up don't get carded...

        October 7, 2012 at 10:42 pm | Report abuse |
      • Bob Brown

        If you think you won't "get carded," try to buy a beer in a grocery in DeKalb County, Georgia. I am 65 and am frequently asked for ID, most often when there's a cop standing just inside the door, watching the checkers, but sometimes when there's no apparent reason.

        October 7, 2012 at 10:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • ab77

      So among the issues is the TYPE of photo ID required to vote. A student ID is not ok, a Veteran's card is not ok, and obviously a social security card is not ok. The law proposes a photo ID WITH your address on it. You can open a bank account or even cash a check with a work ID badge with maybe a social security card. And frequently, people in urban areas don't drive. Hence the issue that this law does nothing but limit people's ability to vote. As I understand it, Pennsylvania could not find A SINGLE incidence of voter fraud, yet would throw up numerous roadblacks that would affect minorities, students, people who live in urban areas, etc. You know, people who usually vote for Barry.

      I'm no fan of Obama, but this law is absurd the way it's written.

      October 7, 2012 at 10:39 pm | Report abuse |
      • linsey

        exactly,we are not talking here of any ids, if you are a citizen you have the right to vote,, it is not about illegal, but this is about the republicans blocking the registratio because they know all of these voter are democrats...this is an act of terrorizing people from their rights..republicans will do everything to win, they are dirty pigs politicians.. because even the green card holders are not allowed to vote not unless they become a citizen...with this for sure mitt will cry soon after the election, he is dirty politician..

        October 7, 2012 at 11:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Trank

      Then you haven't lived in the real world I have never had to show photo ID at a bank to cash a check or start an account. Our state doesn't require photo ID for a license. The only photo ID I have is a passport because I travel out of the county. Otherwise I would not need one. People seem to live in a sheltered world. Just because your state requires something, doesn't mean that is how it works everywhere. Check out the laws. Many states require no photo for anything. Sorry you don't buy it, but it is a fact.

      October 7, 2012 at 10:39 pm | Report abuse |
      • Rhonda

        Where do you live? I lived in Philadelphia, the place this article is referring to and I HAD to have a photo ID to drive, to open an account, when I got a job, etc. etc. I don't live in the real world? I live a sheltered life? Seriously? It sounds as if you live in Mayberry where Floyd the barber just vouches for who you are since you don't need an ID for anything. My goodnes...please tell me where you live so I can move there and live off the grid too!

        October 7, 2012 at 10:47 pm | Report abuse |
      • Trank

        Vermont. Yet not the only state that requires no photo ID for many things. Do a little research on other states. Just because your state does it doesn't make it so in others.

        October 7, 2012 at 10:51 pm | Report abuse |
      • Trank

        I just researched it for you. You are one of only about 14 states that do require a photo drivers license, so you are in the minority.

        October 7, 2012 at 11:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • ab77

      Any old photo ID WILL NOT DO under this law. Again, at a bank, you can get by with even a work ID badge. Which part of this do you not understand? Even a Veteran's card isn't good enough under this law.

      October 7, 2012 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
  18. penny wright

    "I will veto the Dream Act." – Mitt Romney.....

    October 7, 2012 at 10:30 pm | Report abuse |
  19. ab77

    The idiocy in some of these posts is simply mind numbing. Really? ILLEGAL ALIENS VOTING?

    So let me get this straight...the same people who are supposedly the ones protesting laws like what we have in Arizona, because they don't want to have to show their papers, are now WILLINGLY going to register to vote and running the risk of getting discovered?

    Bravo...utterly brilliant.

    Bill Maher was spot on...Americans are stupid.

    October 7, 2012 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Boosjoo

      Obama wants to destroy the USA,

      October 7, 2012 at 10:37 pm | Report abuse |
  20. fubarObama

    Spare me the tears. get your papers in order now so you can vote next time...because WE will be checking eveyone

    October 7, 2012 at 10:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Trank

      No problem if you give a generous amount of time for people to acquire the needed ID's. It is not OK to do it a month or two before an election. If it was so gravely important, why wasn't this process started right after the 08 elections?

      October 7, 2012 at 10:43 pm | Report abuse |
      • Ganesh

        Clear thinking seems to take a back seat here.

        Why place a requirement for a non problem ( The perceived problem being Voter Fraud )

        This truly is a stupid country , judging by the blogs.

        October 7, 2012 at 10:48 pm | Report abuse |
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