YAKIMA – Farmworker advocates Thursday denounced part of an election reform package moving through the state Legislature, saying it unfairly targets Latino voters and casts a shadow over legal immigrants.
Last week, the state Senate passed an election reform bill that included amendments allowing voter records to be randomly investigated and requiring election officials to check the citizenship of each new applicant.
The bill still must be considered by lawmakers in the House. Supporters said the amendments will help to clean up the voter rolls following a contentious election for governor.
But even though election reform is needed, it should not unfairly target one segment of the population, critics argued.
“We support election reform, but we’re very concerned with this provision,” said Lupe Gamboa, president of Grupo Mexico, a statewide advocacy group for Latinos. “It’s discriminatory … It violates due process.”
One misspelling could result in a voter being listed as illegally registering, Gamboa said.
And voter applications could be targeted for a citizenship review solely because of an applicant’s surname, said Jesus Armendariz of Grandview.
State Sen. Pam Roach, the ranking Republican member of a Senate committee that approved the bill and sponsor of one of the amendments, said voters’ ethnic backgrounds don’t affect their right to vote, only their citizenship.
“We’re responding to the fact that we’ve had loopholes in our system and people want a change,” Roach said. “Should there be a problem with checking the rolls of our voters? There shouldn’t be.”
Concerns over possible illegal voters on the election rolls heated up after the contested governor’s race, which dragged on for nearly eight weeks.
In the agriculture-intensive Yakima Valley, roughly 35 percent of the more than 220,000 residents were of Hispanic origin, according to the 2000 Census.
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