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Rights Groups Sue Louisiana over Voting Rights Violations E-mail

State Agencies Failed to Register Minority and Low-Income Voters under National Voter Registration Act

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.

Despite 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. 

“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,” 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 year.”

New Research Sheds Light on First-Time Voters in 2008 E-mail

New 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 problems.”

Read the complete report here.


New Memo Assesses Legislative Threats and Opportunities in 2011 E-mail

titleAs 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 election directors.

You can download this new memo here.

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