Thousands of Louisiana felons will regain voting rights on March 1

Thousands of Louisiana felons will regain voting rights on March 1

LOUISIANA, (KPLC) - After years of fighting for the change, an effort to restore the voting rights of thousands of Louisiana’s convicted felons will officially go into effect next week.

On Mar. 1, all residents convicted of a felony in Louisiana and who’ve completed their sentence over five years ago will be allowed to register to vote, even if they’re still serving probation or parole.

Here’s an overview of the law:

To amend and reenact R.S. 18:102(A)(1), 104(C), and 177(A)(1), relative to registration and 3 voting; to provide relative to registration and voting by a person convicted of a 4 felony; to provide relative to suspension of registration and voting rights of such a 5 person; to provide relative to procedures and requirements for voter registration and 6 voting; to provide relative to reinstatement of voter registration; and to provide for 7 related matters.

However, some state lawmakers and corrections officials agree that the law needs some adjustments. The new law was originally expected to give around 2,000 felons the right to vote, but now advocates are saying that number could be much higher.

“This law is very important to me that now my little grand-daughter can say, ‘my paw-paw can vote,’" Checo Yancy said.

Yancy is one of possibly thousands of former prisoners expected to regain their right to vote. Although, it’s not quite clear yet as to how many of those previously convicted felons in Louisiana will regain the right to vote in upcoming elections.

“I believe this law is going to effect more like 36,000 people based on the numbers from the department of corrections,” local criminal defense attorney, Adam Johnson said.

Louisiana has the highest rate of incarceration nationwide and the highest numbers of families directly impacted by criminal convictions. Last year, Governor Edwards signed House Bill 265 into law with the intent to:

  • Reduce the time people on probation and parole for conviction of a felony would have their voting rights suspended.
  • Restore voting rights to people on probation who have not violated its terms and those on parole who have not been incarcerated for the past five years.
  • Currently, people with felony convictions cannot vote while they are on probation and parole. HB 265 would allow people with felony convictions to vote if they have not been incarcerated within the last five years.

The voting rights law the legislature approved last May was discussed Feb. 15 during a meeting of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee.

It requires the people on probation and parole who want to vote to complete a specific form that isn’t available yet and have it signed by a probation and parole officer. They will then need to take that form in person to the local registrar of voters.

“It’s greater than just the fact that they’re allowed to get their voting rights back. I think it shows that there is greater criminal justice reform,” local criminal defense attorney, Shane Hinch said.

Hinch said the change is definitely a step in the right direction, but will definitely present some challenges.

“On March first when this goes into effect, I’m worried that there might be some hiccups and them actually being able to do it. The law says they can, but the implementation could be cumbersome and that’s how it’s going to be in any legislative process,” Hinch said.

Currently, more than 70,000 Louisiana residents are on probation or parole for felony crimes.

Yancy who advocates on behalf of formerly incarcerated individuals attended the hearing Friday, detailing the new law.

“You hear all the time about returning to citizen and people coming back to the community, but you’re not a part of the community. As today, when I testified in the committee there, nobody up there represents me, but I pay said people’s salary because I pay my taxes. So, this law is very important to me,” Yancy said.

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