All summer long, if we paid attention to the media, we were led to believe that Republican voter suppression laws were meant to target mostly African-Americans, students, the elderly and other groups that are likely to favor Democrats.
If we were lucky, some news reports also noted that Latinos were one of the "other groups" that could be kept from voting by these mean-spirited and un-American state laws.
When the media analyzed President Obama's relationship with Latino voters, we were told that his failure to keep his promise to reform immigration would be the key factor keeping Latinos away from the polls in November. Since most Latinos would never vote for Mitt Romney, we were told that apathy — low Latino voter turnout — would be Obama's problem.
Yet now, only weeks before the presidential election, the media is telling us that nearly half of the country's 23 million eligible Latino voters may not be able to cast a ballot on Nov. 6 — and that instead of voter apathy, this has more to do with voter suppression.
It's all based on a new study that claims 10 million Latino voters could be "deterred or prevented from voting" due to laws in 23 states that "disproportionately impact voter registration and participation by Latino citizens."
The study, released last week by the Advancement Project, a nonpartisan civil rights organization, warned that restrictive voting laws could lead to the massive disenfranchisement of Latino voters. It found that such huge Latino voter losses could be caused by voter purges in 16 states, photo ID laws in nine states and proof-of-citizenship laws in three states.
But it was all a grotesque exaggeration. Although legislators in all those states may have tried to suppress minority voters, it is now clear that, in many of those states, they won't be able to get away with it.
Yet, by adding up all the Latinos in all of those states that could have been affected, the study came up with the very sensationalistic 10 million figure — and the media ran with it. It was great for headlines. Why bother with fact checking?
There is no doubt that thousands of Latinos still could be prevented from voting by some of these Machiavellian laws and that the problem is worthy of national media attention. There is no doubt that, in states where these voter-purges, proof-of-citizenship requirements, and voter ID laws are being imposed, thousands Latinos could be denied their right to vote.
But do we have to exaggerate to get attention?
Deception! Is that what it takes to make the media pay attention to Latino issues? It's not bad enough that thousands of Americans are purposely being prevented from voting? Do we have to come up with a fictitious 10 million?
Of course, such exaggerations end up being counterproductive, especially when other Latino researchers and voter registration activists are forced to recognize that this study's methodology was ridiculously flawed. By making outlandish charges that undermine its credibility, the Advancement Project has lowered itself to the same level as the right wing zealots who dishonestly claim they are fighting to improve the integrity of the electoral process.
A year ago, this column warned that Republicans already had been so anti-immigrant that disenfranchising Latino voters became a better option than trying to win them over.
I noted that these laws are mostly a solution looking for a problem that doesn't exist; that, contrary to tea party fiction, there are no hoards of illegal immigrants, dead people and other ineligible voters trying to cast phony ballots, and that, state by state, the actual number of fraudulent voters is so low that you are more likely to get struck by lightning than to find one.
Nevertheless, I warned that voter suppression measures were bound to become a big problem for Latino voters. And yet my warning didn't get national media attention. I guess my problem was that I said it all in a column. I didn't arbitrarily pick a few sensationalistic numbers and call it a study.
To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.