This week's Sunday Long Read is part 7 of Jim Rutenberg's Disenfranchised series at the NY Times Magazine on GOP voter suppression. This time he focuses on the Hispanic vote, and how Republicans and the Supreme Court are working to wipe out Hispanic and especially Latino voting power in Texas.
The 2016 presidential election will be the first to take place after the gutting of the V.R.A. and with all of these new laws potentially in place. Civil rights lawyers are just as concerned about provisions they don’t yet know about — the last-minute changes that could deter voters in ways that were previously disallowed. North Carolina, Virginia and Florida are among the states previously covered in whole or in part by Section 5, and they will be closely contested. Marc Elias, a longtime Democratic lawyer and the lead counsel for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, told me, ‘‘You are likely to see more litigation over the fundamental right to vote this election cycle than we have seen since the passage of the Voting Rights Act.’’
But the bigger voting rights fight isn’t about the map of today. It’s about the map of tomorrow, which will be reshaped by Hispanics in ways that could realign national politics for generations. Hispanic Americans have faced a long legacy of white hostility, dating back to the mid-19th century, when Texas state and local officials began a sporadic campaign to chase Hispanic citizens from polls with threats of violence or prison. Congress placed Texas under Section 5 oversight in 1975, based partly on its continued use of English-only ballots. But even now, Hispanic citizens are registering and voting at levels that are not much better than those of blacks near the end of Jim Crow — a 38.8 percent turnout in Texas in 2012, according to the Census Bureau, as opposed to more than 60 percent for both blacks and ‘‘Anglos,’’ the widely used informal term for non-Hispanic whites. (In the census, Hispanics can be of any race, and do not count as a racial category.)
If Hispanics were to start registering and voting in the same percentages that Anglos do in Texas, and continued to prefer Democrats over Republicans in the same proportions that they do now in presidential elections, Democrats would be able to shave the 16-point deficit they saw there in 2012 to 6 points by 2024 — less than the deficit the party faced in Virginia in 2004, four years before it managed to win the state. Continuing demographic trends would push Texas toward the Democratic column by 2036, but by then national Democrats, seeing a winnable presidential race, would already be flooding the state with money, staff and volunteers — something they haven’t done in earnest in nearly 20 years — to put it in their column even sooner. Projections have shown black and Hispanic population growth combining to force a similar dynamic in Georgia by as early as 2020 and making North Carolina a safer Democratic bet by 2024 or 2028; Hispanic growth alone could make Arizona competitive for Democrats by 2024, if not sooner.
The stakes are highest in Texas. Its 38 Electoral College votes make it ‘‘the last line of defense’’ against the Democrats, its Republican governor, Greg Abbott, has said. This explains why liberal groups like Battleground Texas have started spending so much money — $10 million in 2013 and 2014 — on, among other efforts, registering new voters. It also explains why Representative Louie Gohmert, a Republican from Texas, would go on the conservative cable network NewsMax TV to charge that the Obama administration was encouraging undocumented immigrants to come into the country to vote illegally. The right defense against those illegal voters, he suggested, was Texas’ voter-ID law. If they’re not stopped, Gohmert warned, ‘‘it will ensure that Republicans don’t ever get elected again.’’
And that is why Republicans are doing everything they can to lock in voter suppression now. If they do not, the country belongs to Democrats in 20 years. It is the last gasp of a dying party, a party that will scorch the earth rather than hand over power.
The Hispanic vote is key. Republicans have no chance at it. So they must destroy it.