BATON ROUGE, LA — Nearly 30,000 low-income Louisianans have recently applied to register to vote at public agency offices, according to a new report released by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC). This represents a dramatic increase in applications and is the result of a successful lawsuit brought by voting rights groups to bring the state into compliance with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993.
The NVRA requires that public agencies that provide public assistance, such as food stamps, Medicaid, and other programs, also proactively offer their clients the opportunity to register to vote every time they apply for benefits, recertify, or change their addresses. In 2011, Project Vote and its partners began investigating Louisiana’s dismal voter registration numbers at public agencies, which suggested that the state was failing to comply with this important law.
In 1995–1996, the first two years of NVRA implementation, Louisiana public agencies registered nearly 75,000 citizens. Over the next 13 years, however, registrations had dropped 88 percent. Though the numbers of participants in Louisiana’s food stamp and Medicaid programs remained consistently high, only approximately 3,000 people per year submitted registration applications through public agencies in 2009–2010.
Project Vote and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) filed suit in April 2011 on behalf of the Louisiana State Conference of the NAACP and an individual SNAP (food stamp) applicant seeking to bring Louisiana into compliance with the NVRA. In 2012, a federal judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. Project Vote and LDF were assisted in this effort by local Attorney Ron Wilson and the pro bono legal services of the law firm Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, LLP.
Now, new data compiled and released by the EAC show that the improved compliance brought about as a result of the lawsuit is working. Statewide, 29,233 voter registration applications were submitted by public agency clients between 2011 and 2012. This represents a dramatic increase of 384 percent over the previous two-year period.
“These data show that Louisianans want to register and will register to vote when given the opportunity,” says Sarah Brannon, director of Project Vote’s Public Agency Voter Registration Program. “The goal of the NVRA was to make voter registration more accessible and to reach those Americans who have been historically underrepresented in the electorate.”