Controversial new voter identification laws in nearly two dozen U.S. states could disenfranchise 10 million eligible Hispanic voters in the upcoming election, according to a study released Monday.
Hispanics comprise the largest ethnic minority in the country. Their vote is critical to the election, with Latino turnout on Nov. 6 potentially determining the outcome in key battleground states such as Florida and New Mexico.
Recent polls show Hispanics supporting President Barack Obama by more than two to one over Republican Mitt Romney, and critics of attempts to implement stricter regulations say they are aimed at suppressing the votes of minority groups which historically vote more Democratic than Republican.
Civil rights group the Advancement Project studied government data and found that 23 states have legal barriers that could suppress voter registration, including policies that purge alleged non-citizens from voter rolls; require proof of citizenship for voter registration; or impose strict photo ID laws.
"These obstacles could deter or prevent more than 10 million Latino citizens from registering and voting in the 2012 elections," the report warned.
"Like African-Americans, Latinos have experienced decreased access and correspondingly lower levels of voter registration and participation than non-Hispanic whites."
The number of Latinos potentially affected in Florida, for instance, amounts to nine times the margin of victory in the state in the 2008 election.
Census data from 2010 shows more than 21 million Latino citizens eligible to vote, equating to 10 percent of the country's eligible voters. Nearly 30 percent of eligible Latinos were not registered, while more than half reported they did not vote.
By contrast, of the 172 million non-Hispanic whites of voting age in 2010, 18 percent were unregistered, while 38 percent did not vote.
The Advancement Project warned that citizen-based voter purges being implemented or pursued in 16 states -- including seven battleground states like Colorado, Florida and Ohio -- were a serious threat to legitimate Hispanic voters.
There were nearly 5.5 million registered Hispanic voters in the 16 states in 2010, and the group said they were at risk of being swept off voter roles unless they could prove their citizenship.
"Today we are witnessing the greatest assault on voting rights in over a (century), through a new wave of voting policies," Project co-founder Penda Hair told reporters.
Supporters of the rules cite the need for greater voter integrity. While there have been very few cases of U.S. voter fraud in modern times, critics say that is because authorities have not looked hard enough.
Some of the policies are at risk of being overturned. In Pennsylvania, the state Supreme Court has sent a tough new voter ID law back to a lower court, while on Monday, federal judges hear closing arguments on South Carolina's new law that requires voters to have photo ID at the polls.
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