New Orleans, LA –The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Inc., Project Vote, and New Orleans attorney Ronald Wilson filed a complaint in federal court on behalf of the state conference of the NAACP and several private individuals, alleging that Louisiana is disenfranchising minority and low-income voters by failing to offer them the opportunity to register to vote as required by the National Voter Registration Act.
"By failing to comply with the National Voter Registration Act, Louisiana is denying minority and low-income voters across the state equal access to the ballot box," said Dale Ho, assistant counsel with LDF's Political Participation Group.
The NVRA requires public assistance agencies that provide services to low-income residents to offer their clients the opportunity to register to vote with every application for benefits, renewal, recertification, or change of address transaction. The complaint cites evidence showing that Louisiana agencies are failing to carry out their responsibilities under this law.
Despite consistently high numbers of participants in Louisiana's food stamp and Medicaid programs, voter registration applications originating from public assistance agencies have been surprisingly low. As of 2008, voter registration applications originating in these agencies had dropped 88 percent since 1995, despite increased participation in public assistance programs. The complaint also cites the results of agency investigations and interviews of public assistance recipients showing widespread non-compliance.
"Registration at public assistance agencies is important for reaching populations that are less likely to register through other means, including low-income residents, minorities, and persons with disabilities," says Nicole Zeitler, director of the Public Agency Voter Registration Project at Project Vote. "By ignoring this vital law, Louisiana is denying this right to thousands of its residents every year."
"Of course, we would have preferred to resolve this matter absent the need for litigation," said New Orleans attorney Ronald Wilson. However, continued Wilson, "the State's refusal to make the changes required to bring it into compliance with federal law, left us with no other alternative."
In recent years, similar lawsuits in other states have resulted in tremendous increases in voter registration numbers. For example, the number of clients registering through public assistance agencies in Missouri and Ohio has increased more than tenfold following settlement of NVRA lawsuits in those states.