At 58 million, Latinos – the largest minority ethnic group in the US – are powerful. With 66,000 Latinos turning 18, the voting age, every single month, that force is vast enough to transform the political balance of our local, state, and federal governments. But that potential depends on one factor: Those who are legally able to vote utilizing their right by turning out to the polls on Election Day. Suffrage wasn’t an easy right to obtain or maintain for people of color, including Latinos, many of whom had to wait a decade after the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965 to cast their ballot. Even still, our enfranchisement is under perpetual threat by increased voting restrictions that impact Black and brown populations the hardest.
Here, a look at Latino voting rights in the US, from preserving suffrage in the 1960s to defending it today.
On August 6, 1965, at the height of the swinging sixties, a time of youth-led cultural and political upheaval and change, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The law, a treasure of the civil rights movement, enforced the voting rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments – which granted citizenship to anyone “born or naturalized in the United States” and prohibited states from disenfranchising voters “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” respectively. While the act intended to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that prevented African Americans in particular from employing their right to vote, the law was far-reaching, securing this right for most racial and ethnic minorities, including English-speaking Latinos in the southwest, northeast, and southeast.
In 1974, the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, the first and largest non-partisan Latino voter participation organization in the US, started operations, with founder William C. Velasquez, and other Mexican-American political activists, discovering early that, despite the achievements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, there remained barriers – particularly, language – for Latino voters preventing them from exercising their right.
While the Voting Rights Act of 1965 included a section that ensured that people educated in US schools that were predominately taught in a language other than English – for instance, island Puerto Ricans – could not be denied the right to vote because of their inability to……
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