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Civil Rights Groups Achieve Voting Rights Victory in Louisiana

Signing of Act 127 – H.B. 378 means Louisianans will not lose their voting rights unnecessarily simply because they are on probation

New Orleans – June 16, 2021: Voice of the Experienced (VOTE), a Louisiana-based grassroots organization founded and run by formerly incarcerated people, and Advancement Project, a next-generation, multi-racial civil rights organization, along with Crowell & Moring LLP, celebrated the enactment of Act 127 – H.B. 378 in Louisiana, which was signed into law on June 10, 2021. The bill will ensure that individuals sentenced only to probation will not lose their voting rights due to a felony conviction, and will prevent government officials from expending unnecessary resources to suspend voting rights, and then having to work to restore them for people who should not have been suspended from voter rolls in the first place. More than 30,000 people are currently estimated to be on probation in Louisiana, and the new law will help additional people each year as new individuals are sentenced to probation.

“When I went to prison, I lost my voting privileges, and now that I have gained back those precious rights, I don't miss an election,” said Checo Yancy, Director of Voters Organized to Educate. “I vote now because it’s my right to have my voice heard as to who represents my family and me in my community.”

"Voting rights are the cornerstone of democracy, and if citizens can be stripped of that, there really are no rights for anyone," explains Bruce Reilly, VOTE's Deputy Director. "But this was always far bigger than casting ballots for us. When you look at how we pass laws, we bring a diverse array of people to the table, explaining both problems and solutions. Nothing illustrates this progress better than gaining support on this bill from the Secretary of State, who we filed a voting rights lawsuit against only four years ago. Our work isn't transactional; it's transformative."

In 2018, Louisiana enacted a law that allows people with felony convictions who are on probation or parole to have their voting rights restored as long as they have not been “incarcerated pursuant to the order within the last five years.”  Act 127 – H.B. 378 makes two clean-up fixes to the law, including clarifying confusing language in existing election law and streamlining information reporting from the Department of Public Safety & Corrections to the Secretary of State that ensures eligible voters do not needlessly have their voting rights suspended.

"We commend our partner Voice of the Experienced for once more bringing formerly incarcerated people closer to a voting system that works for everyone," said Judith Browne Dianis, Executive Director of Advancement Project's national office. "As a former bastion of the Confederacy, too many of Louisiana's laws have carried the legacy of Jim Crow into the present. Advancement Project is proud to support the leadership of VOTE in undoing these harms, strengthening democracy, and creating systems that work for all."

H.B. 378 was a bipartisan bill, receiving support from both Democrats and Republicans, including the endorsement of Louisiana Secretary of State R. Kyle Ardoin. The leading sponsor of the legislation was Rep. Sam Jenkins, Jr. (D-Shreveport) and there were 22 co-sponsors in the Louisiana House of Representatives. The bill passed the House 83-17 and the Senate 36-2. Governor John Bel Edwards signed the bill on June 10, 2021 and it will go into effect on January 1, 2022.

“At long last, Louisiana is moving in the right direction on voting. Fought for and won by Voice of the Experienced (VOTE) and its allies, this new law – Act 127 – is the second legislative victory for voting rights for people with convictions in three years,” said Professor Bill Quigley of Loyola University New Orleans, College of Law. “I applaud VOTE for their hard work. I am honored to work with VOTE, Advancement Project National Office, and pro bono law firm Crowell & Moring in our ongoing efforts to secure the fundamental right to vote for all Louisianans.”

Louisiana voter laws used the phrase “incarcerated pursuant to the order within the last five years,” but did not define it, which led to confusion and indiscriminately applied standards. Act 127 – H.B. 378 clears these issues up by defining the terms, such as specifying that “incarcerated pursuant to the order” means “actual confinement in a correctional facility,” but does not include “confinement pursuant to a violation of a condition of probation or parole that does not result in revocation.” The bill also clarifies that people on probation who have never been to prison can vote, even if a judge later incorporates their time spent in jail prior to conviction as time served.

“Voting rights are backbone of our democracy,” said Michael Lieberman, partner at Crowell & Moring LLP, a law firm representing VOTE.  “No one eligible to vote under the law should have their voting rights suspended unnecessarily, or have to jump through hoops just to get those basic rights restored.  We are proud to partner with VOTE and Advancement Project to help insure that people on probation can avoid this problem in Louisiana going forward.”

Pro bono counsel from Crowell & Moring included Michael Lieberman, Tom Koegel, Honor Costello, Molly JonesBritton Davis, Kayvan Ghaffari, Kimberley Johnson, Halie Kaplan, Da’Net Sturdifen, Shawn Layman, Chandler Leonard, Brian McGrath, and Eric Stahl.

VOTE is a grassroots organization founded and run by formerly incarcerated people (FIP), our families and our allies. We are dedicated to restoring the full human and civil rights of those most impacted by the criminal (in)justice system. Together we have the experiences, expertise and power to improve public safety in Louisiana and beyond without relying on mass incarceration.

Advancement Project National Office is a next-generation, multi-racial civil rights organization. Rooted in the great human rights struggles for equality and justice, we exist to fulfill America’s promise of a caring, inclusive and just democracy. We use innovative tools and strategies to strengthen social movements and achieve high impact policy change. Visit www.advancementproject.org.

Contact(s):

Andrew Loeb
Senior Coordinator, PR
+1 202.624.2792
Email: aloeb@crowell.com