Is the Supreme Court the Key to Hispanic Voter Turnout? The Ticker

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By Francis Wilkinson

Political parties spend enormous resources to turn out their voters on Election Day. This year, the job may be outsourced to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Earlier this week, the state of Texas filed an amended complaint with the court in a voter ID case in which it seeks to have Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act ruled unconstitutional. As Rick Hasen noted in his Election Law Blog, unless the court finds a way to duck this particular challenge, the case could become the fourth "blockbuster" on its pre-election docket.

The big enchilada, of course, is the challenge to the Affordable Care Act, which the justices will hear later this month. In addition, the court is grappling with a convoluted case over political redistricting (from Texas again) and will hear arguments about the constitutionality of Arizona's polarizing immigration law, SB 1070.

What does all this have to do with turnout? It depends. The court's decision on health reform seems most likely to motivate (via outrage, which as the 2010 election showed, is a formidable motivator) partisans of whichever party comes out on the losing end. A split decision -- say, a ruling that strikes down the individual mandate while supporting the rest of the law -- could be a wash.

However, the other cases before the court all have a common denominator: Hispanics.

The Texas election districts have been challenged on the grounds that they undermine Hispanic political power. The Justice Department challenged the state's voter ID law on similar grounds, because Hispanics are less likely to have the photo identification that Texas now requires to vote. And while Arizona's aggressive immigration law has produced plenty of outrage, Hispanics -- the obvious target of the law -- have taken particular offense.

Hispanic voters are known for low turnout. While roughly two-thirds of eligible whites and blacks voted in 2008, according to U.S. Census data, only 49 percent of Hispanics did. (Asian turnout was similar.) If a series of Supreme Court decisions is perceived as pro-Republican and anti-Hispanic, that number could rise. Given that there are about two million more eligible Hispanic voters this year than in 2008, a small turnout boost in swing states like Colorado, New Mexico and even Ohio could be significant.

Conversely, if the Supreme Court shoots down Arizona's immigration law, which Mitt Romney has endorsed, and sides with the Obama administration on the Texas cases, it could deflate the sense of grievance many Hispanics feel right now against Republicans. Recent polls show President Barack Obama trouncing Romney among Hispanics. In a December poll by the Pew Hispanic Center, 45 percent of Hispanics said Democrats show more concern for Hispanics, vs. 12 percent saying Republicans do.

Today's New York Times has a front-page article on Hispanic voters, Republicans and the economy. Yes,  perceptions of the economy will influence how and how many Hispanics votes. But Supreme Court rulings could also be decisive.

(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)


-0- Mar/16/2012 14:52 GMT