FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 4, 2016
For more information, contact:
Kristen Muthig, Fair Elections Legal Network
Emma Weinstein-Levey, Southern Poverty Law Center
Federal lawsuit: Louisiana voter registration requirement
discriminates against naturalized citizens
Baton Rouge, LA – Louisiana is discriminating against naturalized citizens by requiring them to provide citizenship documents when registering to vote – a requirement that is not asked of other potential voters who must simply swear they are U.S. citizens, according to a federal lawsuit filed today by two civil rights groups.
The lawsuit by the Fair Elections Legal Network and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) was filed on behalf of three naturalized citizens who must meet the requirement, which dates back to 1874. VAYLA New Orleans, a nonprofit organization that has attempted to register voters, is also a plaintiff.
The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, can be viewed here. The groups also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to put this requirement on hold as the case proceeds.
“For 142 years, Louisiana has discriminated against its naturalized voters, forcing them to show their papers and prove they are citizens, while native-born voters are simply added to the rolls,” said Jon Sherman, counsel with the Fair Elections Legal Network. “This discriminatory proof of citizenship law appears to be the only one of its kind still enforced anywhere in the United States and, to avoid costly litigation, the legislature should repeal it immediately.”
The lawsuit describes how the requirement violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment by singling out naturalized citizens. This practice also violates Title III of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the National Voter Registration Act, according to the lawsuit.
Under Louisiana law, all registrants must swear they are citizens when completing voter registration forms. These forms do not state that naturalized citizens must provide documentation. The website for Louisiana’s secretary of state also fails to mention this requirement. After registering to vote, a letter is sent to these potential voters demanding they provide proof of citizenship, such as a U.S. passport or a certificate of naturalization.
“By enforcing this outdated requirement, Louisiana is saying that naturalized citizens are second-class citizens and cannot be trusted,” said Naomi Tsu, SPLC deputy legal director. “These potential voters have already sworn that they are citizens as part of the registration process. The state is blocking eligible voters from the ballot box and ultimately weakening democracy.”
There are approximately 72,250 naturalized citizens living in Louisiana. Voter registration groups, such as VAYLA New Orleans, have faced difficulties as they have registered naturalized citizens only for these potential voters to discover later that they must provide documentation. This year, the obstacles created by this requirement have already prevented many people from voting in the 2016 presidential primary.
“The undue burden this law places on naturalized citizens resonates deeply within our community in New Orleans East,” says Minh Nguyen, Executive Director of VAYLA New Orleans. “It’s demoralizing that our parents and grandparents work so hard to become citizens and yet are still treated unfairly.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Alabama with offices in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi, is a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society. For more information, see www.splcenter.org.
The Fair Elections Legal Network (FELN) is a national, nonpartisan election reform organization whose mission is to remove barriers to registration and voting for traditionally underrepresented constituencies and improve overall election administration through administrative, legal, and legislative reform.