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“Unlocking the Ballot: Reimagining the Voting Rights Act to Empower Latino Voices”

Author: Kayla Pilgrim

Department: UIC Institute for Policy & Civic Engagement

Advisor: Dr. Joseph K. Hoereth, IPCE

Abstract: With Latinos recording the lowest voter registration rate among racial and ethnic groups at 61.1% during the 2020 general election, this study delves into the systemic barriers and discrimination hindering their electoral participation. Central to this issue is the transformation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), designed to outlaw discriminatory voting practices – particularly after the Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. 529 (2013) decision, which has significantly altered the landscape of civic engagement in America, disproportionately affecting minority communities. This research employs a combination of literature review, policy analysis, and electoral data examination to highlight loopholes within the VRA that perpetuate the voting barriers responsible for low Latino voter turnout at the national level. Findings suggest that Latino voter turnout is expected to decline in part due to the suppressive local and state decisions that have been enabled by the recent changes in the VRA. Making modifications to the VRA can potentially increase Latino participation in elections, reduce voter discrimination, and contribute to a more equitable democratic process in the United States. The study advocates for reforms to the VRA, emphasizing the need to address historical exclusions and align with its foundational goal of electoral fairness. Supporting the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and implementing critical revisions such as increasing funding for civic engagement and outreach are proposed as key measures.

Keywords: Latinos, voting, Voting Rights Act, political participation