WHYR’s A Pause for Thought on felon disenfranchisement and the ongoing struggle for voting rights in Louisiana

Baton Rouge Community Radio’s A Pause for Thought recently covered felon disenfranchisement in Louisiana. You can listen to the episode here:

The program features an interview with Norris Henderson, executive director of VOTE (Voice Of The Experienced), a non-profit by, of, and for formerly incarcerated individuals and their families. VOTE is the lead plaintiff in VOTE v. Louisiana, currently in the First Circuit Court of Appeals, charging that the state unconstitutionally disenfranchises citizens on parole or probation. At issue is Section 10(A) of the Louisiana 1974 Constitution’s Declaration of Rights, which grants the right to vote with the exception of persons ‘under an order of imprisonment for conviction of a felony.’

Speaking to show host Wayne Parker, Mr. Henderson explained “If you ask the regular citizen what their understanding of ‘under an order of imprisonment’ means, they would literally say that you’re talking about somebody that’s in jail. And so for the legislature, [the Constitution] was passed by an election of over 600,000 people in 1973 and within less than two years 144 [legislators] decide to change it. So that’s been our challenge.” He also spoke about the extension of disenfranchisement to those under probation, saying “The thing about the person on probation, the person on probation never really went to jail; they got arrested, went to court and got sent to probation and went home. And so that’s not talking about a person that’s under orders of incarceration.”

Norris Henderson was falsely imprisoned in Louisiana for a crime he did not commit for 27 years, 10 months, and 18 days. He has since been cleared of the crime he was unjustly jailed for almost three decades.

VOTE and The Advancement Project are leading the litigation in Louisiana state court, which includes VOTE and eight individual plaintiffs. Their suit claims the voters approving the 1974 Louisiana Constitution did not intend disenfranchisement to extend to parolees and those on probation, rather the legislature changed the language of the law unconstitutionally two years later.

Almost 2/3rds of those disenfranchised for criminal convictions in Louisiana aren’t actually in jail or prison. Currently, 71,000 Louisiana citizens who are not incarcerated are barred from exercising their constitutional right to vote for parole or probation. 31,000 Louisianians in state prisons and parish jails are also disenfranchised. 3.04% of Louisiana’s adult citizens are disenfranchised, higher than the nationwide average of 2.47%.

Nationwide, more than 6 million Americans can’t vote due to felon disenfranchisement. Most of them are out of prison on parole or probation. In many states across the country, efforts are underway to reenfranchise former felons. In the South, home today to some of the most restrictive states for felon disenfranchisement, such laws were first implemented after the Civil War to reduce African Americans’ voting strength following the granting of black male suffrage through the 15th Amendment.

More information on VOTE can be found at: vote-nola.org .

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