Ashanti Witherspoon served 27 years at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola for armed robbery and has been on parole since 1999, but because Louisiana law bars him from voting until his parole expires in 2045, he was on hand at a Baton Rouge appeals court Wednesday where documents were filed challenging the law’s legality. The 1976 state law prohibits roughly 71,000 felons on probation and parole from voting. “I’ve campaigned for people, but I can’t vote,” Witherspoon, 68, of Baker, said inside the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal. Witherspoon is a pastor, minister, motivational speaker and husband. “We’ll sit down and discuss the issues,” he said of his wife during election times. “I drive her to the place where she votes.” Witherspoon is one of the plaintiffs who filed suit against the state in an effort to have the four-decade-old law struck down.
State District Judge Tim Kelley reluctantly upheld the law in March, telling Witherspoon and his fellow plaintiffs that he agreed with them but could not bend the law.
The 1974 Louisiana Constitution prohibited people “under an order of imprisonment” for the conviction of a felony from voting. The 1976 state law that is under attack expanded the definition, saying that felons on probation and parole cannot vote.
The written arguments filed Wednesday at the 1st Circuit claim Louisiana is unconstitutionally disenfranchising tens of thousands of citizens who are on probation and parole following a felony conviction.