clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Jeb Bush once registered as a Hispanic voter. Was it a mistake?

El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido!
El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido!
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The New York Times reported this morning that Jeb Bush identified himself as "Hispanic" on a Florida voter registration form in 2009:

jeb bush hispanic

(Miami-Dade County Elections Department via the New York Times)

Bush tweeted, in response to a joke from his son, that it was a mistake:

That's entirely plausible. Bush's wife, Columba, is Hispanic, and it's easy to imagine that someone on his staff was filling out both of their forms together and simply checked the wrong box for Jeb. (Republican strategist and close Bush friend Ana Navarro tweeted this morning that she often accidentally checks "Hispanic" when filling out forms for her non-Hispanic husband.)

Maybe that should raise questions about voter-registration laws in Florida and elsewhere that take a hard line against "voter fraud," and which could turn other careless mistakes into reasons not to accept a voter's ballot. But absent any evidence that Bush called himself "Hispanic" as a general pattern — and the Times doesn't indicate that this was the case — Bush's implication that he wasn't trying to claim Hispanic ethnicity seems credible.

The Times draws a comparison to Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who claimed Native American heritage as a Harvard Law School professor despite not having any tangible evidence of her ancestry. But in that case, Warren's supposed Native American roots were being used as a defense of the school's diversity. Bush's 2009 voter registration form wasn't a context where his ethnicity would have mattered.

The fact that this is noteworthy at all, though, illuminates a lot about popular understandings of who counts as Hispanic and who doesn't. Ted Cruz was born in Canada, is married to a Caucasian woman, and isn't a fluent Spanish speaker (he says he grew up speaking Spanglish) — but since his father emigrated from Cuba, and since Cruz has a Spanish surname, his introductory Spanish-language campaign ad can legitimately claim that he's the first Latino senator from Texas. Mitt Romney's grandfather was born in Mexico, but since the family had lived in the US prior to living in Mexico, he didn't feel he was allowed to claim he was Latino (as reports from a private meeting with donors indicated). Jeb Bush's wife and children could easily mark "Hispanic" on a voter form without anyone batting an eye, but Bush himself cannot. It's an indication that ancestry still matters a great deal when it comes to who counts as Latino.

UPDATE: After this article was posted, Jeb Bush tweeted about the form implying it was a mistake. We've embedded the tweet.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.