Latino voter enthusiasm before Tuesday's presidential election is high and Latinos are poised to cast a record 12 million votes. Our march to the polls is underway, witnessed by a reported increase in early voting by Latinos.
Yet, there are worries that turnout could be hurt in some battleground states, not just because of the havoc created by stormy Sandy, but because of the confusion and intimidation caused by conservatives who want to depress turnout by Latinos and other communities of color.
Our message to voters is simple: Vote. Demand your right to vote and do not leave the polling station without getting help to cast your ballot. If you have any questions about voting, you can ask for help from Voter Protection representatives who will be posted outside of many polling places.
Latino voter advocates have worked hard for many years to reach this historic point in American politics, and we will not be turned away.
Voting rights groups succeeded this summer in striking down or putting on hold some of the harshest voter ID laws enacted by conservative state Legislatures. However, the laws were in place long enough to frighten, intimidate or confuse voters. In some states, the damage could not be reversed.
Florida is a case in point. A federal judge struck down in late August a new Florida voter law, calling it "harsh and impractical," because it severely restricted third-party voter registration drives. The conservative Florida Legislature tried to game the system by cutting off voter registration efforts like those credited with helping President Obama carry the battleground state in 2008.
Though the law was declared unconstitutional, it was in effect long enough to dramatically slow down registrations of Democratic voters who are usually signed up through these campaigns.
One part of Florida's law that remains is the shortened early voting period that took away the Sunday before Election Day, the traditional day for "Souls to the Polls" march from African-American churches to polling stations. They marched a week earlier.
"You can take a Sunday away, but you can't take away our vote or our voice," said Bishop Kelvin L. Cobaris, pastor of the Livingston Street Church of God in Orlando.
Mischief will likely occur in other states too. In Pennsylvania, a judge delayed ruling on the state's new voter ID law but complicated the issue by saying poll workers can ask for photo identification. Voters are likely to be confused if confronted by aggressive poll workers who are not formally trained.
Similarly in Virginia, the question is whether poll workers will deny a ballot to a legal voter who is not carrying a photo ID. The state's election law does not require voters to present a government-issued photo ID. Voters can also show a voter registration card, Social Security card, photo ID from a private workplace, utility bills, paychecks, bank statements, government checks or a current Virginia college ID.
Let's remember that all of this chaos was created conservatives trying to make it harder for millions of eligible Americans to have their say on Election Day, under the guise that voter fraud is rampant, when in fact it rarely exists.
One right-wing group intent on intimidating voters by standing guard in minority neighborhoods has dispatched this message to sympathizers: "On November 6th, if you see something at the polls that just doesn't seem right... let us know."
Here is what is not right. If you receive robo-calls or flyers telling you the election has been postponed, that ICE will be checking papers, that you have to pay up your traffic tickets to vote, or other misinformation, do not believe them. Believe only the information provided by your local Board of Elections.
If you have questions about voting, want to make sure you are registered, what types of identification are required in your state or need information such as when and where to vote, call 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA or 1-888-839-8682 or go to this website and click on your state.
If you are a registered voter and your right to vote is being challenged, call 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA or 1-888-839-8682 immediately. It is important to let them know if something doesn't seem right when you try to vote.
If you are told that you cannot cast a regular ballot, ask for a provisional ballot. You have a federal right to cast a provisional ballot even if a poll worker says you are not registered and cannot vote. If you cast a provisional ballot, immediately after the election you should take evidence of your right to vote, such as a voter registration card, birth certificate, naturalization papers, to the local Board of Elections and your ballot will be counted.
Perhaps the best advice is to vote early. If the early voting period has ended, vote early on Tuesday to avoid a last-minute rush and to have time to rectify any issues that may come up.
Latino voters need not be pushed aside anymore. We are growing in numbers and in political strength, and on Tuesday, our voices will be heard.
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