An appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court aims to grant voting rights to thousands more people on probation and parole

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PHOTO BY DAVID MCNEW/THINKSTOCK
  • PHOTO BY DAVID MCNEW/THINKSTOCK

Days after Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a measure that will restore voting rights to potentially thousands of Louisiana residents on probation and parole, an appeal before the Louisiana Supreme Court could determine the voting rights for thousands more.

The court may consider a request for an appeal of a lower court ruling that upheld a 1976 Louisiana law barring people convicted of a felony who are on probation and parole from entering the voting booth.

The bill Edwards signed — effective March 2019 — restores voting rights to most people convicted of felony crimes after a five-year period after leaving prison, which will impact roughly 3,000 of the state’s 70,000 formerly incarcerated people under probation and parole.
The 1976 law bars people "under an order of imprisonment" from voting; a a suit filed by New Orleans-based nonprofit group Voice of the Experienced (VOTE), founded and led by formerly incarcerated people, argues that the Constitution "explicitly guarantees the right to vote to all people who are not 'under an order of imprisonment,' including those on probation and parole" — which could impact roughly 70,000 people who have returned to life outside prison but aren't allowed to vote.

Though there was some dissent, Baton Rouge District Judge Tim Kelley ultimately affirmed the 1976 law last year, and the state's 1st Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed that ruling in March. VOTE filed its writ of appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court June 8.

Several groups have written amicus briefs in support of VOTE's case, including the American Probation and Parole Association, he NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and Louisiana Constitutional Law and History Scholars, among others.

“We envisioned this case while some of us were incarcerated,” VOTE executive director Norris Henderson said in a statement. “After organizing, growing, and building power for years, today we affirm our political voice before the Louisiana Supreme Court. The state needs to make good on the promise of the right to vote we have based on the Constitution.”

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