LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office is exploring allegations that low-income residents haven’t received the same opportunities to register to vote as other Arkansas residents.
The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group Project Vote — which works to support low-income, youth and minority voters — said two state agencies weren’t providing voter registration forms when people received federal food or health assistance.
“We urge you … to take immediate steps, in conjunction with the Arkansas Department of Health and the Department of Human Services, to bring the state into compliance,” the group wrote this week in a letter to the Secretary of State.
Martin’s spokesman, Alex Reed, said the office received the letter Tuesday and has begun looking into the allegations.
“We’re in the process of setting up meetings with them,” Reed said, referring to Project Vote. The group served formal notice that it intends to sue if the problems aren’t corrected.
The group’s most recent examples of voter registration forms not being handed out were from 2010, prior to Martin taking office.
Reed said the office has regular training sessions that can be used to remedy any problems identified by Project Vote.
“That will certainly be addressed,” Reed said.
The group cited data from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission that show the number of voter registration applications submitted at Arkansas public assistance agencies.
The number dropped from 28,324 in 1995-1996 to 4,078 in 2009-2010.
“This decrease is particularly significant given that the number of initial food stamp applications in Arkansas during the same time frame rose 40 percent, from 528,693 in 1995-1996 to 877,751 in 2009-2010,” the group said.
Arkansas NAACP president Dale Charles said the failure to provide the applications violated the National Voting Rights Act.
“We believe the low- and moderate-income citizen should not be excluded from the opportunity to participate in the voting process as a citizen of Arkansas,” Charles said in a news release.
The League of United Latin American Citizens also weighed in.
“We stand with our partners and urge the state of Arkansas to comply with the law and provide its low-income citizens the opportunity to register to vote when seeking services,” LULAC National Executive Director Brent Wilkes said. “Under federal law, Arkansas is required to provide access to voter registration forms and help its citizens seeking public assistance to register to vote. They should immediately take steps to bring themselves into compliance with the law.”
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