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05/22/2013 08:50 am ET

Election Officials Are Prejudiced Against Latinos, Study Says

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Local election officials are less likely to give basic information about voting requirements to Latinos, according to a study released this month.

Political science graduate students Julie Faller, Noah Nathan, and Ariel White at Harvard University sent thousands of emails to local officials from fictitious people asking for information about voting -- some with “putatively white” names and others with Spanish, Latino-sounding names.

The result, in the words of the authors:

Analyzing data from over 5,300 replies, we find clear evidence of bias against Latinos in the responsiveness of local election officials. While our design does not allow us to identify specific mechanisms responsible for this bias, we show that emailers with Latinos names were roughly five percentage points less likely to receive a reply to a question about voter ID requirements than non-Latino whites. This result is not driven by whether officials were elected or appointed, or by small towns where officials might know all of their constituents. We also find that the replies Latinos emailers do receive are less likely to convey accurate information about ID requirements.

The preliminary draft of the study, “What Do I Need To Vote? Bias in Information Provision by Local Election Officials,” was published May 10 and reported by the Washington Post’s Wonkblog Tuesday.

Some 30 states have passed laws to toughen the requirements for obtaining a voter ID since 2003, according to ProPublica. Laws requiring a photo ID are among the most contentious, with opponents arguing that the requirements would disproportionately dilute the Latino vote.

Young people, those without college educations, the poor, and Hispanics are the groups most likely to lack a state-issued photo ID, according to a Reuters analysis of polling data published last year.

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