The decision on whether more than 70,000 Louisiana residents who are on probation or parole should have voting rights will depend greatly on the interpretation of six words, according to legal briefs filed by both sides in an appeal of the case. Since 1974, the Louisiana constitution has said no one can vote “while under an order of imprisonment for conviction of a felony,” and the right to vote would be restored “upon termination of state and federal supervision.” It is the phrase “while under an order of imprisonment” that both sides argue is key in their case. The Advancement Project, a national civil rights and racial justice organization based in Washington, D.C., is representing the advocacy group Voice of the Ex-Offender, as well as individual plaintiffs, in an ongoing effort to repeal Louisiana’s current voting law, which does not grant felons on parole or probation the right to vote.
The group first filed the lawsuit in July 2016, claiming the current law is unconstitutional. When the suit went to trial court in March, 19th Judicial District Judge Tim Kelley rejected the lawsuit, calling it unfair but ruling the law constitutional.
“I don’t like this ruling. I don’t like it. It’s not fair,” Kelley said at the time, according to an Associated Press report. “But I’m charged with following the law.”
The group officially appealed the ruling in September, reasserting their belief that voting is an unalienable right held by all Louisiana citizens, including those on probation and parole.