Nevada voter Elvira Diaz has worked so fiercely to register Latino voters in her hometown of Reno that the White House has honored her efforts as a "Champion of Change." More recently, Diaz made headlines after she called out a local group that was registering voters and telling them they could only register Republicans, an act that is illegal. After she spoke up, Diaz was approached by Alex Bacchus, the now infamous Republican operative who previously worked for Republican congressman Mark Amodei. Bacchus allegedly shoved her, cocked his fingers as if holding a gun, aimed it at Elvira and pretended to shoot her.
That Diaz, a Mexican immigrant who says she became an active citizen in order to fight anti-immigrant policies, anti-Latino policies, would herself become a victim of the GOP's anti-Latino voter suppression efforts is not just ironic. It's hugely symbolic, symbolic of how deep the threat of voter suppression is to Latino voters in this year's election, and why Latinos must step up to fight this threat.
Though less-known and less-understood than the efforts to suppress the African-American vote, Republican-led efforts to suppress Latino votes across the country are no less devastating. Throughout the country, in key swing states like Florida, Colorado and Nevada and other states, groups like True the Vote and other Republican-leaning organizations have taken to any number of measures to prevent Latinos from participating, and making a difference in this year's election: purging voter rolls, confusing or erroneous ballot materials, voter intimidation and other actions designed to discourage and intimidate Latino voters.
Just this past week, we've witnessed a number of moves designed to disenfranchise Latino voters like in Joe Arpaio's Maricopa County, where the Elections Department gave Spanish-speaking voters the wrong date of next month's election. Or in Philadelphia, where misleading Spanish-language billboards sponsored by the state of Pennsylvania have Latinos up in arms to remove them. In Florida, local Latino groups and lawyers are investigating reports from callers into Spanish-language radio stations "that they had received warnings over the phone that election officials would be checking car insurance and registration status at the polls." Add to these other previous efforts to institute voter ID laws in Texas, Pennsylvania and other states, efforts that have been stricken down by the courts. The Republican party appears dead set on winning the elections through any means necessary, including suppressing Latino votes and intimidating Latino voters.
That's the bad news.
The good news: these racially-charged voter purge efforts will ultimately end. In key swing states, Latinos are poised to decide how those electoral votes will be counted. In Texas, New Mexico, Florida, California and other states, Latinos will help elect a number of new members to Congress and state legislatures. At the same time, Latinos will be sending a message to Tea Party candidates like Brian Bilbray in California and Francisco Canseco in Texas: relinquish the Tea Party, or pay a political price.
Regardless of the outcome in this year's presidential race, Latino voters will again show the country that we are fully engaged. We will do whatever's necessary to defend it from the anti-democratic efforts to purge votes, intimidate voters and generally suppress votes. The Tea Party and the GOP are offering us an opportunity to flex our political muscles, which will only get stronger with each passing election year. They will make us stronger.