BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- Louisiana departments aren't complying with a federal law that requires public assistance agencies that serve low-income residents to offer them voter registration, a civil rights group said Wednesday.
Lawyers representing the Louisiana State Conference of the NAACP sent a complaint letter to Secretary of State Tom Schedler, the Department of Children and Family Services and the Department of Health and Hospitals, asking for corrective action.
"By defaulting on its obligations under the law, Louisiana is denying substantial numbers of eligible low-income and minority voters equal access to the ballot box," said Dale Ho, a lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Trey Williams, a spokesman for the Department of Children and Family Services, said the department offers voter registration information to everyone who applies for food stamps, child care assistance, welfare and other social services programs.
He said the application form includes a page dedicated to voter registration, and he said the department's employees are trained on the federal requirement to offer voter registration assistance. Online application forms also include the voter registration information and can link people directly to the Secretary of State's Office to register, he said.
"We believe that we are in full compliance with Louisiana law and as well with the (federal) voter registration act," Williams said.
A spokeswoman for the health department said the agency is looking into the complaint and always strives to comply with federal law.
The complaint by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People says in a survey of people applying for services, many said they hadn't been offered voter registration information as required.
The letter also cites data suggesting the number of voter registrations starting from public assistance offices in Louisiana has dropped 88 percent in 11 years, from 1995-96 to 2007-2008.
Williams said he thinks the numbers could be skewed because there's no uniform requirement to show that someone registered to vote after applying for public assistance.