Polling places mysteriously ran out of ballots when Mexican Americans showed up to vote. Ads on Spanish language radio threatened fines and imprisonment to those who voted without first properly registering to vote. Illiterate voters were not given assistance at the polls. These were just a few examples of tactics used to keep Mexican Americans from voting in elections after the Voting Rights Act was passed given by scholars and activists at a two-day conference in Texas on the struggle for Latino voting rights. The Voting Rights Act protections are weakened today after a 2013 ruling by the Supreme Court that gutted the act, experts said, and new tactics are taking their place to suppress Latino votes as the population grows and becomes more politically potent.
Challenges being seen today are the elimination of early voting days; voter identification requirements; attempts to return to at-large districts and cuts to language voter assistance, said Vilma Martinez, a former general counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who argued several voting rights cases that helped extend the Voting Rights Act to Latinos.
“What I see today are new variations on the theme of diluting and discouraging the Latino and minority vote,” said Martinez, the opening speaker at the conference titled, “Latinos, the Voting Rights Act and Political Engagement” held at the University of Texas at Austin.
The conference is intended to bring to light the intimidation, discrimination and at times violence Mexican Americans and other Latinos faced as they tried to exercise their right to vote even a decade after the signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.