A Louisiana law that takes effect in March and will allow felons who have been out of prison for five years to register to vote — despite remaining on probation or parole — doesn’t go far enough to address state laws that “unconstitutionally disenfranchise” its citizens, Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Johnson says. Johnson’s written comments came in a dissent Monday as the state high court denied an appeal filed by a group of felons who challenged a 1976 Louisiana law that barred felons on probation or parole from voting. While that case was on appeal, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law on May 31 a measure allowing felons who’ve been out of prison for five years, but remain on probation or parole, to register to vote.
Johnson acknowledged Monday that the recently passed measure provides an exception to voter registration ineligibility for certain probationers and parolees. However, she said, “numerous citizens on probation and parole will continue to be disenfranchised even after the amended law goes into effect” because of the five-year waiting period.
“While I am in favor of this attempt to restore voting rights to probationers and parolees, I am of the opinion that the clear language of our constitution already provides the right to vote to all probationers and parolees because they are not incarcerated,” she stated.
The Louisiana Department of Corrections says some 2,200 offenders have been under the Division of Probation and Parole’s supervision for five years or more — about 3 percent of the more than 70,000 people on probation or parole for felony crimes. Johnson cast the lone dissent in the appeal filed by a group called Voice of the Experienced, or VOTE.