Federal lawsuit claims La. voter registration law is discriminatory

Federal lawsuit claims La. voter registration law is discriminatory

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A Louisiana voter registration law that has been around for more than 140 years is under fire for supposedly keeping certain citizens from the polls.

A lawsuit filed Wednesday by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Fair Elections Legal Network claims the law discriminates against foreign born, naturalized citizens.

The law in question, which dates back to 1874, says that naturalized citizens must provide proof of their citizenship either through a passport or their naturalization form before they can register.

The lawsuit claims that extra requirement infringes on the right to vote and conflicts with federal law, which affords naturalized citizens a simpler way of registering.

The suit is filed against the Secretary of State's Office, which was unable to comment due to the pending legal matter.

"We want to make voter registration fair for everyone and accessible so that we can have a vibrant turnout in November," said Naomi Tsu, deputy legal director with SPLC.

The suit is filed on behalf of three women, all naturalized citizens and all in good standing, who have been unable to register despite several attempts.

VAYLA, a New Orleans community group, is also named as a plaintiff. Among its activities, VAYLA works to register naturalized citizens. The civil suit says the law affects thousands of natural born citizens in Louisiana.

Tsu said the problem goes beyond filling out extra paperwork. She pointed out that a lack of education about the requirements makes it extremely difficult for naturalized citizens to complete their registration.

For example, one plaintiff said she was not informed her registration had been rejected until she arrived at the polls to vote.

The lawsuit says that after filling out the initial registration, a naturalized citizen may receive notice that they need to provide proof of citizenship by a certain deadline, usually 10 days. However, Tsu said it can be challenging for the applicants to find time or transportation to return to the registrar's office by the deadline.

"People just simply for a lack of notice are unable to meet the deadline set," said Tsu.

The lawsuit asks for an injunction of the law, which would prevent it from being enforced. Eventually, Tsu hopes legislators will change the law which she said is one of the last of its kind in the country.

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