When Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Louisiana Legislature approved a new law last spring restoring voting rights to former felons still under supervision, it was expected to give around 2,200 people the right to vote starting next March. Now, advocates and elected officials are saying the number could be as many as 36,000. Officials were aware the new law would restore voting rights to people living in the community on parole with no problems for five years after they have been released from prison. It was also acknowledged that it would benefit people who are on probation for five years. Those groups combined are fairly small, only a couple thousand people, according to the Louisiana Department of Corrections. But legislators, advocates and prison officials are now saying the law might also apply to the vast majority of people on probation — including those under supervision for fewer than five years — who have had their voting rights suspended. Natalie LaBorde, deputy commissioner with the Department of Corrections, confirmed the revised estimates.
“You could read that law one of two ways,” LaBorde said in an interview last week. “It’s just not super clear.”
State Rep. Joe Marino, I-Gretna, said he thought the law initially only applied to parolees when he voted for it last spring, but now thinks it might apply to most probationers. Ultimately, the secretary of state, who oversees elections, “is going to have to make the call in interpreting this change that we made,” said Marino, an attorney.
“I think that potentially changes the law to allow people on probation who have not served any time in jail to vote,” he said.