Last Thursday, Governor John Bel Edwards signed House Bill 265 into law. This historic victory was made possible by the leadership of formerly incarcerated people as well as Representative Patricia Smith (Baton Rouge) and hundreds of supporting families and allies. “This is a win of our lifetime, and also one of many to come,” says Executive Director Norris Henderson, who will now be able to vote. “It wouldn’t have been possible without the voice of those who have been to prison. We know that those who are closest to the problem are closest to the solution.”
The new law will go into effect on March 1, 2019 and is estimated to reach at least 43,000 people--40,000 on probation and 3,000 on parole--throughout the state in the first year. Find out more about the eligibility details below.
Whose voting rights can Louisiana suspend? 110,000 people.
The 1974 Louisiana constitution guarantees all resident citizens, over 18, the right to vote. However, it carves out the option to suspend the right while someone is under an order of imprisonment for a felony conviction. The phrase “under order of imprisonment,” was first defined in 1976, and expanded in 1977. The state may suspend the rights of people in prison, on parole, or on probation for a felony.
Whose voting rights will not be suspended after a criminal conviction?
Whose rights did HB 265 restore?
The operative part of the new law carves out a group of people who will not be impacted by the state’s choice to suspend voting rights. This group is anyone, under order of imprisonment: “who has not been incarcerated pursuant to the order within the last five years.”
The incarceration must be “pursuant” (or after) the order of imprisonment, parole, or probation.
At any given time, roughly 40,000 Louisiana citizens are on probation. All of them left the courthouse, and went home, following the judicial order. None of their voting rights will be suspended until after they are incarcerated, if ever. While many finish their probation terms with no incident, others do not. Upon violation, and sentence to incarceration, they will have their voting rights suspended. Because probation terms are under 5 years, such person will not have that right restored until they complete the probation (which is likely to be under 5 years), and are no longer “under an order.” At that point, all past incarcerations become irrelevant.
People on parole who have been out for five years will be able to vote. The DOC estimates about 3,000 of the roughly 30,000 people currently on parole would have their right un-suspended. The majority of people finish parole in shorter than five years, thus HB 265 would not apply to them. Nearly half of people on parole return to prison for a violation, nearly all of those people do that within the first year of release, under the pressure of finding food, clothing, shelter, a job, and happiness.
Download a 1-pager of the voting eligibility under HB 265.