Suit filed to put an end to Louisiana's naturalized citizens voting law

By Sean Fowler | May 12, 2016

BATON ROUGE – With the presidential election fast approaching, two advocacy groups have filed a class-action lawsuit, hoping to put a stop to a century-old voter registration law in Louisiana they say discriminates against immigrant citizens.

"The timing for this case is crucial because we want to ensure that all citizens are able to successfully register to vote in time for the November election," Brittnie Baker, an attorney for the Fair Elections Legal Network (FELN), told the Louisiana Record.

FELN, along with the Southern Poverty Law Center, are fighting to stop a law in Louisiana that requires foreign-born but naturalized citizens of the United States to bring documents proving their citizenship with them when they register to vote. Natural-born citizens need only attest on their form that they are in fact citizens. This has stymied many naturalized citizens from being able to vote in elections. Baker says the extra requirements are unfair.

"They should not be required to go through an extra step that is not asked of natural born U.S. citizens in order to register to vote," she said. "Why should naturalized U.S. citizens, who have the right to to vote just like every other U.S. citizen, be singled out and asked to show their papers? Louisiana is essentially saying that they take a natural born U.S. citizen's word at face value but do not trust those who have naturalized into U.S. citizenship."

There are four other states with proof-of-citizenship requirements for voter registration, those being Alabama, Arizona, Georgia and Kansas. The difference is that those states require all citizens to prove their citizenship. Louisiana is the only state that has a specific proof-of-citizenship requirement only for foreign-born citizens. This kind of law used to be common, but other states dropped them when facing similar allegations of the laws being discriminatory.

There are some who would say that requiring proof-of-citizenship is a wise precaution, meant to avoid allowing people from other countries to lie about their immigration status and impact elections here. Baker, however, says that the possible penalties for lying on the form are deterrent enough. 

"Every single person who completes a voter registration application - whether it be a federal or state form - must affirm under penalty of perjury that they are a U.S. citizen," she said.

Some of the voting offices that enforce this requirement have responded by saying that there have been very few complaints about the requirement, and that it's simply a matter of making sure you have the right paperwork when you register to vote. The suit says, however, that there are nearly 182,000 foreign-born people in Louisiana, with more than 72,000 of them being naturalized U.S. citizens, and many of them already deal with difficulties in language barriers and understanding the registration process.

With time running out for November, these groups want to make sure the process of registering to vote is as simple as it can be. 

"We want every U.S. citizen to be able to register to vote before Louisiana's October 11th voter registration deadline, which is fast approaching," Baker said.

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