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Federal Judge Rules that Lawsuit against the State of Louisiana Over Failure to Offer Voter Registration Services May Continue

7/21/11

(New Orleans, LA) – Today, a federal court rejected the State of Louisiana's effort to dismiss a lawsuit regarding the State’s failure to offer public assistance recipients the opportunity to register vote.  The court’s ruling means that public assistance clients and the Louisiana State Conference of the NAACP can proceed with a lawsuit claiming that the Louisiana Secretary of State, the Department of Children and Family Services, and the Department of Health & Hospitals are disenfranchising minority and low-income voters by failing to offer them the opportunity to register to vote as required by the federal National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).

“The State must be held accountable for its continuing violations of federal law, so that all Louisiana citizens have an opportunity to vote,” said Dale Ho, Assistant Counsel with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which is representing the plaintiffs along with Project Vote, a Washington D.C.-based voting rights organization, and New Orleans attorney Ronald Wilson.

The NVRA requires public assistance agencies, such as food stamps and Medicaid offices, to offer their clients the opportunity to register to vote with every application for benefits, renewal, recertification, or change of address transaction. The plaintiffs’ complaint cites evidence showing that Louisiana agencies are failing to carry out their responsibilities under this law.

The State of Louisiana had argued in a brief to the court that the NAACP had no legal right to bring this lawsuit.  But U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk sided squarely with the plaintiffs on that point, giving the suit the green light in a 14-page order, stating that that the NAACP successfully argued that it had expended resources “on additional voter registration initiatives” because of the “defendants’ failure to comply with the NVRA,” and that therefore, “[t]he NAACP has demonstrated that it satisfies the injury requirement and that it has standing to sue.”

Nicole Zeitler of Project Vote, which also represents the plaintiffs, agreed with the judge's reasoning.  "The Court’s ruling affirms what plaintiffs have maintained throughout this litigation: that this lawsuit has demonstrated clear violations of federal law, and that the NAACP is a proper party to bring this lawsuit as one of the organizations that has had to pick up the burden of voter registration."

A similar lawsuit was filed last week against Louisiana by the United States Department of Justice.  Ronald Wilson, who is also representing the plaintiffs, said, “given the widespread non-compliance that we’ve observed, it came as little surprise that the Justice Department would also determine that the State is out of compliance with federal law.” Successful lawsuits brought by voting rights groups in other states, such as Missouri and Ohio, have resulted in dramatic increases in public agency registrations.

Mr. Ho concluded, “today’s ruling means that our lawsuit will proceed.  We intend to ensure that all Louisiana citizens are provided with the opportunity to register to vote in accordance with federal law.”

A copy of the opinion can be found here.

 

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ABOUT LDF

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is America's premier legal organization fighting for racial justice. Through litigation, advocacy, and public education, LDF seeks structural changes to expand democracy, eliminate disparities, and achieve racial justice in a society that fulfills the promise of equality for all Americans. LDF also defends the gains and protections won over the past 70 years of civil rights struggle and works to improve the quality and diversity of judicial and executive appointments.

ABOUT PROJECT VOTE

Project Vote is a national nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that promotes voting in historically underrepresented communities. Project Vote takes a leadership role in nationwide voting rights and election administration issues, working through research, legal services, and advocacy to ensure that our constituencies are not prevented from registering and voting.