New report finds Louisiana voting policies of great concern compared to other states

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  • Dale Eisman

Mary Boyle, Common Cause, (202) 736-5770

Tim Rusch, Demos, (212) 389-1407

Lack of enforcement of voter registration act, restrictive voter registration requirements, and history of voter purges cited as barriers to voting

Washington, DC – A new report finds that Louisiana ranks near the bottom among 10 states evaluated for the strength of their voting laws. Louisiana’s apparent lack of enforcement of the National Voter Registration Act — as evidenced by an 88 percent decline in registrations at public assistance agencies — and its history of voter registration list purges, stringent registration requirements, and weak laws preventing voter suppression tactics, make the state a target of concern to voting rights advocates.

The report, “Voting in 2010: Ten Swing States,” examines Louisiana’s election laws and policies and highlights the impact they could have on voter participation in the upcoming mid-term elections. Because at least one Louisiana House race is a toss-up and the senatorial race remains competitive, the state’s voting policies could have a game-changing impact on election results. The report was produced by national policy centers and election watchdogs Common Cause and Demos. The report also reviews voting laws and policies in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio.

“Louisiana has flown under the radar in many election years because it hasn’t recently been competitive in presidential elections. That ends in 2010,” said Tova Wang, Senior Democracy Fellow at Demos and author of the report. “Louisiana elections officials, voting rights advocates and voters will need to work hard in the next several weeks to ensure a fair vote in this very important election.”

“When the stakes are this high, the rules of the game-and whether or not they are enforced-make all the difference” said Susannah Goodman, director of election reform for Common Cause and co-author of the report. “This report shows where we need better rules in Louisiana -and better referees.”

The report examines potential problem areas including voter registration, ID issues (which can present burdens to those who don’t hold traditional identification such as a driver’s license), provisional ballots, voter suppression and deception tactics, caging and challenge laws, voting by overseas and military voters, and challenges for new citizens and ethnic minorities. A summary chart evaluates each state’s practices, and a set of recommendations is offered for improvement of these voting procedures.

For Louisiana, the report found a number of notable obstacles to full voter participation.

Louisiana has experienced an 88 percent decline in voter registration by public assistance recipients since initial implementation of the National Voter Registration Act – the seventh steepest drop in the nation.

Laws regarding voter challenges are troublingly unclear. Any voter registered in the state may make a challenge, and a challenged voter’s right to vote is left entirely to the discretion of the majority of the election commissioners at the polling place. Commissioners receive little guidance regarding how to make such a determination.

Voters must register 30 days prior to the election, potentially leaving many voters out of the process.

Election officials do not conduct any formal outreach for immigrant or language minority voters, despite the rising number of naturalized citizen voters in the state. There were nearly 62,000 naturalized citizens in Louisiana in 2007, and likely more today. Only about 37,000 “new Americans” – naturalized citizens and their children — were registered to vote in the state as of that year.

A 2007 purge program removed 21,000 names from the statewide voter registration list when officials compared the names of Louisiana voters with lists from other states. Although the Secretary of State’s office eventually restored many of the names struck in the New Orleans area, list maintenance programs in Louisiana should continue to be monitored.

Click here for the full report, executive summary and other swing state information.