Agencies Failed to Register Minority and Low-Income Voters under National Voter
April 20, 2011
(New Orleans, LA)
--Yesterday, Project Vote, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Inc. (LDF), and New
Orleans attorney Ronald Wilson filed a complaint in federal court on behalf of
the state conference of the NAACP and several private individuals, alleging
that Louisiana is disenfranchising minority and low-income voters by failing to
offer them the opportunity to register to vote as required by the National
Voter Registration Act (NVRA).
“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.
The NVRA requires
public assistance agencies that provide services to low-income residents to
offer their clients the opportunity to register to vote with every application
for benefits, renewal, recertification, or change of address transaction. The
complaint cites evidence showing that Louisiana agencies are failing to carry
out their responsibilities under this law.
consistently high numbers of participants in Louisiana’s food stamp and
Medicaid programs, voter registration applications originating from public
assistance agencies have been surprisingly low. As of 2008, voter registration
applications originating in these agencies had dropped 88 percent from 1995,
despite increased participation in
public assistance programs. The
complaint also cites the results of agency investigations and interviews of
public assistance recipients showing widespread non-compliance.
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,” says Nicole Zeitler, director of
the Public Agency Voter Registration Project at Project Vote. “By ignoring this
vital law, Louisiana is denying this right to thousands of its residents every
voters played a decisive role in the 2008 election, according to a new research
memorandum by Project Vote Research Director Lorraine Minnite. In First-Time
Voters in the 2008 Election, Minnite finds that new voters accounted
for 12 percent of the votes cast in 2008, and that they voted for Obama over
McCain by slightly more than two-to-one. In all, first-time voters cast an estimated 10 million ballots
for Obama, comprising 15 percent of vote total.
Just as significantly, the composition of the new voter electorate shifted along
race/ethnicity and class lines in 2008, compared to 2004. The percentage of blacks and Latinos voting for the first time increased in 2008.
Minnite finds that the most significant relative increase, however, occurred
along class lines. She writes
“First time voting among the lowest income group, those with annual family
income of $15,000 a year or less, nearly doubled in proportion among all voters
in this income category, from 18 percent in 2004, to 34 percent in 2008.”
As Congress and the president negotiate over the federal budget—which, in
almost any form, promises to include reduced funding for education, health, and
social services—it is interesting to look at the policy preferences among these
new voters who arguably gave Obama his presidency.
Project Vote’s survey of the 2008 electorate finds that individuals who voted
for the first time in 2008 strongly favor an active role for government in
ensuring economic fairness and educational opportunity
Minnite also notes “across an array of economic issues, new
voters trust government more than the private sector to address or remedy
Read the complete report here.
As part of Project Vote's ongoing effort to keep you informed about the
changing landscape of election legislation, we are pleased to provide
the first installment this year in our ongoing Election Legislation Threats and Opportunities series.
With the 2012 election looming large, there has been a flurry of
interest in reshaping election administration across the country.
Consequently, many of these efforts are rooted in partisan politics
rather than designed to make substantial improvements to the system.
Voter ID, restrictions on voter registration drives, and even the
revocation of existing progressive election policies are all being
dramatically fought out on the state level.
Project Vote Communications Manager Erin Ferns Lee has
been carefully monitoring election legislation in all 50 states. This
memo assesses both the threats and opportunities represented by election
reforms that have gained significant support in state legislatures so
far in 2011, based on discussions with state-based advocates, recent
media coverage, and the partisan makeup of the legislatures and state
You can download this new memo here.
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