Many people have registered to vote since Louisiana expanded voting rights eligibility on March 1, restoring the vote to anyone who is on probation (but hasn’t been to prison under that sentence), and about 3,000 people who have been on parole for at least 5 years. Some of those people will be allowed to vote on March 30th, while some won’t. Why the difference?
Consider Louisiana’s two largest parishes: In Baton Rouge, the local registrar’s office has a computer station. In New Orleans, it does not.
Anyone who registers to vote via computer (“online registration”) is eligible if they register 21 days prior to election day (which is one week prior to the early voting period). For people with a criminal record, online registration is tricky business because they must personally show up to the Probation & Parole Office and retrieve a form proving their eligibility, then personally hand that form to the local registrar’s office.
People who fill out the form while at the registrar’s office and hand it to them can’t vote for 30 days. If they can get to a computer instead, they can’t vote for 21 days. This is the election code’s difference between the in-person deadline and the online deadline. If someone is already standing at the counter in the registrar’s office, it makes little sense to then go to the public library, or an organization, or home and try to register online to gain those 9 days of eligibility.
In Louisiana, these election windows create donut holes for the electorate, especially as there are so many election. This year alone, there will be five, not including run-offs. Every day, the voting rights of hundreds of people sentenced to probation are suspended, yet those people also become eligible for restoration immediately following suspension. It is still unknown, however, how long it would take for the DOC and Secretary of State to process a suspension and ensuing restoration. Not only does this create more administrative work, but actively blocks the person on probation’s right to vote.
Further, there are even more administrative barriers even after the above process is complete. The local registrar won’t process any new voter applications until after they get out of the election window, meaning that most of us who registered on March 1 are not yet registered voters. In fact, our paperwork won’t be processed until March 31st. In other words, the structural oppression of currently and formerly incarcerated people continues.
A slightly more hopeful fact is that local registrars now have until April 13th to get a computer in every office. When that happens, then people can follow the lead of Baton Rouge by going online and registered right there where the public officials can be on hand to help.
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