Until this week, naturalized citizens in Louisiana were required to go an extra mile to register to vote: After filing a standard registration form, potential voters born outside the US were required to submit proof of citizenship, in person, at their local registrar’s office. “It felt like we were targeted,” says Tu Hoang, an attorney in Louisiana. Hoang, 28, emigrated from Vietnam with his parents when he was five. He became a US citizen when he was 19 and registered to vote soon after. He was able to navigate the system without any hiccups, providing proof of citizenship with his voter registration form, but noticed an unsettling shift years later when he was organizing voter registration drives in the Vietnamese community of New Orleans. Around 2012 the procedure became more cumbersome — a shift other advocates also noticed. The proof of citizenship requirement became more strictly enforced and applicants were required to make an extra trip, several weeks after filing the registration form, rather than submitting both together.
“I don’t think this thing was even really enforced until 2012. Is it because they saw an influx of naturalized citizens wanting to vote?” Huang says. “It sickens me that someone is moving parts around when other people are having to jump through hoops.”
There was no change in policy that spurred the shift, just a change in how it was enforced. Hoang attributes the change to the work of grassroots organizations, such as VAYLA New Orleans where he is a board member, to register naturalized citizens to vote. In post-Katrina New Orleans, he says, community organizing has taken newfound urgency and seen much success.
Carolina Hernandez, executive director of the nonprofit Latino advocacy group Puentes New Orleans, has worked on voter registration drives in New Orlean’s Latino community since 2007. She estimates that nine out of 10 potential voters who are non-native-born declined to register when they learned the process. She found that many people were unable to make it to the registrar’s office during working hours, or were simply deterred by the cumbersome process. “It’s inconvenient and democracy shouldn’t have to be that hard,” she said.