Protecting the Right to Vote in Lousiana

As coordinated right-wing legislative attempts to suppress voter turnout in disenfranchised communities continue in state after state, those truly concerned about protecting the right to vote are also taking action.

This past week, Project Vote, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and New Orleans attorney Ronald Wilson filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of the NAACP state conference and several private individuals. The complaint alleges that Louisiana’s public assistance agencies are not providing opportunities to register to vote as required by the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), a failure that disenfranchises minority and low-income voters. Under the law, clients should be offered voter registration services with every application for benefits, renewal, recertification, or change of address transaction.

Nicole Zeitler, director of the Public Agency Voter Registration Project at Project Vote, described the impact of the state's failure to meet the requirements of the NVRA:

“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. By ignoring this vital law, Louisiana is denying this right to thousands of its residents every year.”

After similar lawsuits were brought in recent years Missouri and Ohio and successfully settled, voter registration numbers soared at public assistance agencies in those states. In contrast, voter registration applications originating at relevant Louisiana agencies actually dropped 88% between 1995 and 2008, despite an increase in public assistance recipients.