Filed Under:  Civil Rights, Government, News, Politics, State

La. sued for disenfranchising minority and low-income voters

16th May 2011   ·   0 Comments

By Travis Andrews
The Louisiana Weekly Contributing Writer

Louisiana is being sued for alleged non-compliance with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Inc. (LDF), Project Vote and several private persons.

The lawsuit, filed on April 19, alleges Louisiana has failed to give ample opportunity for low-income and minority voters to register by failing to follow the required procedures outlined in the NVRA.

“The NVRA has been in effect in Louisiana since 1995,” said, Nicole Kovite Zeitler, director of the public agency voter registration program for the Washington, DC-based Project Vote. “The act requires the agency give out a voter registration form with every application for benefits, recertification of benefits and change of address.”

Project Vote, a nonprofit organization dedicated to equal voting rights for all citizens, and the LDF, an organization dedicated to fighting for racial justice, are defenders of the NVRA in states where it is not upheld.

And, according to Zeitler, the state of Louisiana has failed to do so, which is immediately reflected in the rapidly decreasing number of low-income voters, an 88 percent drop since the law was passed in 1995.

“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, according to a press release.

According to the official complain, in 1995 there were 257,347 applications for Louisiana SNAP, the food stamp program. That number grew to 291,865 in 2007.

While voting registration forms are supposed to be include with SNAP and Medicaid applications, there has been a severe drop from 74,636 in 1995, when the law was placed into effect, to 8,688 in 2007.

Though Medicaid saw a drop in applicants, having 383,752 applications in 2005 to 2006 and 340,710 in 2007 to 2008, there is a vast difference in comparison to number of voters, something Zeitler said can indicated a state’s non-compliance with the NVRA.

Based on these numbers, she said “In the state of Louisiana, I think it’s pretty clear they’ve been out of compliance for a long time.”

The lawsuit is directed simply at having Louisiana comply with the NVRA and offer voter registration alongside benefits packages, something that is not being done.

In fact, according to the complaint, “We also identified individuals who reported they had not received any offer of voter registration by agency staff, even though such an offer should have been made. Our survey also revealed that personnel at numerous agencies around the state were wholly unfamiliar with their voter registration obligations under the NVRA. In addition, a number of agencies around the state did not have hard copies of voter registration forms available for clients.”

Zeitler said their goal is compliance, and she is confident voter registration will rise once that happens.

“This is a law Louisiana should have been in compliance with for the past 16 years,” she said. “Once Louisiana starts following the law, I’m confident we’ll see many low-income [persons] registering to vote.”

Though both organizations say they would rather settle the matter outside of court, they feel their hands were forced.

“Of course, we would have preferred to resolve this matter absent the need for litigation,” said attorney Ronald Wilson, who filed the complaint, according to a press release. “The State’s refusal to make the changes required to bring it into compliance with federal law, left us with no other alternative.”

This story originally published in the April 25, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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