BATON ROUGE – A Fair Elections Legal Network (FELN) and Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) lawsuit against the state of Louisiana will not go to court, as the state has repealed a law that was called discriminatory by many.
"Now that the law is repealed, naturalized citizens can stand on equal footing with U.S.-born citizens and successfully register to vote in time for the November election," Brittnie Baker, an attorney with the Fair Elections Legal Network, told the Louisiana Record.
FELN and SPLC were suing the state over a law that required foreign-born, naturalized citizens to bring proof of citizenship documentation with them when registering to vote. That was not a requirement for natural-born citizens, who only had to attest to their citizenship on the registration form. The requirement caused issues with foreign-born voters, who often have enough trouble understanding the requirements due to linguistic issues.
"The individuals who were impacted by the discriminatory law worked so hard to become U.S. citizens and will no longer be treated differently by the state solely based on how they came to U.S. citizenship," Baker said.
The groups were alleging that the requirement, first established in 1874, was incredibly unclear and undocumented. The registration form did not mention the requirement, with many who were affected receiving letters after having filled out the form telling them to come back with documentation. The website for the Secretary of State also didn't mention the requirement anywhere.
The groups were also upset that the requirements stymied many people from being able to register in time for Louisiana's presidential primary on March 5. With Louisiana having one of the higher time requirements for the presidential election (registration received within 30 days of the election on Nov. 8), it was important for the groups to resolve this issue soon.
The repeal of the law was included in a broad elections bill that Gov. John Bel Edwards signed in late May. Secretary of State Tom Schedler, who was named as a defendant in the suit, said that saving taxpayer money from a lawsuit that wasn't really necessary was a key factor in repealing the law.
"In our eyes, the law was simply indefensible," Baker said. "Louisiana state officials must have recognized that as well and chose to operate quickly to ensure the law would be repealed before the end of the legislative session next week, avoiding what could have been a long and expensive court battle."
She added that this is far from the only problematic law in the nation, so FELN's battle is far from over.
"In the last few years, we have seen a trend of legislatures passing unnecessary voter suppression laws that truly do have an impact on voters, particularly those with limited resources and in minority communities," she said. "I hope this decision by Louisiana to repeal the challenged law will set a positive example for other states moving forward that every eligible citizen should have an opportunity to vote without having to jump through unnecessary hoops."