Baton Rouge, La. – Today, Advancement Project filed an appeal brief in the Louisiana Court of Appeal asserting the right to vote for Louisiana citizens on probation and parole. The appeal is part of an ongoing appeal of a trial court ruling that allows Louisiana to continue to deny the ballot to tens of thousands of Louisianans.
Advancement Project’s national office, a civil rights and racial justice organization, filed the appeal brief on behalf of Voice of the Experienced (“VOTE”), a New Orleans-based, member-driven, grassroots non-profit organization by and for formerly incarcerated persons and their families, along with eight individual plaintiffs. VOTE contends that the Louisiana Constitution guarantees that individuals who live and work in the their communities on community supervision are permitted to have a voice in their community’s political life.
“The Louisiana Constitution is clear: Those with the right to vote should be able to cast their ballot,” said Norris Henderson, Executive Director of VOTE. “Citizens in the community should be able to choose the leaders who represent them, and governments should not silence its citizens. If people are working, paying taxes, and contributing to our communities, then they have a voice and a role in shaping what Louisiana looks like. The right to vote is too important, and we believe the court will agree.”
The case, VOTE v. Louisiana, seeks to affirm the right to vote for more than 71,000 people who are not incarcerated, but living under community supervision as our neighbors, family members, and co-workers.
Louisiana denies the right to vote to people behind bars. It also bars from voting 40,000 people on probation, along with 30,000 who have returned to their communities on parole. Each year, thousands of people are removed from this list while thousands more take their place, as Louisiana has more police and prisons per capita than anywhere in the nation.
The deprivation of the right to vote affects Louisianans of different backgrounds and races, and VOTE’s plaintiff class reflects the diversity of individuals living and working in their communities who are deprived of a say in matters impacting their lives. Still, the practice disproportionately disenfranchises African Americans.
While Black people make up about 32.5 percent of the population of Louisiana, they comprise 50 percent of those on probation and 61 percent of those under parole supervision.
“Thousands of Louisianans have lost their civic voice for no reason, said Denise Lieberman, Co-Program Director of the Power and Democracy Program at Advancement Project’s national office. “The framers of the state constitution did not intend to take away their voice, and it is wrong to do so. No one should be deprived of their fundamental right to vote.”
“Louisianans believe in second chances and giving people the opportunity to do the right thing – this case embodies just that,” said Bruce Reilly, Deputy Director of VOTE. “Our case is firmly grounded in judicial history and morality: The people who framed and ratified the 1974 Louisiana Constitution guaranteed the power of the vote to all persons in Louisiana who are not incarcerated. Even the trial court judge himself called his own ruling against us ‘unfair.’ It is morally right and common sense to stop denying our neighbors’ voices.”
VOTE began in 1987 as the Angola Special Civics Project, a group at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola run by prisoners who had become paralegals. Since then, VOTE has successfully registered thousands of voters and won several major policy victories, including parole reform and Ban the Box.
VOTE and eight individual plaintiffs filed the case in Louisiana state court on July 1, 2016. The trial court, in an oral ruling from the bench on March 13, 2017, granted summary judgment for the State. In today’s filing, VOTE is submitting its brief in support of its appeal to the Louisiana Court of Appeal for the First Circuit.
The case challenges the constitutionality of disenfranchising people on probation or parole, arguing that the 1974 Louisiana Constitution prohibits only incarcerated peopl
e from voting and the inclusion of non-incarcerated people was not the intent of the Convention, nor the intent of the Louisiana voters who ratified the overall document.
Advancement Project is a multi-racial civil rights organization. Founded by a team of veteran civil rights lawyers in 1999, Advancement Project was created to develop and inspire community-based solutions based on the same high quality legal analysis and public education campaigns that produced the landmark civil rights victories of earlier eras.