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White Paper Released as Louisiana Legislature Hears HB 396 to Streamline Voter Registration Process for People with Felony Convictions this Wednesday

New Orleans, LA – Today, Voice of the Experienced (VOTE), Advancement Project, and political scientist Dr. Ariel White released a new white paper titled “No Surrender, No Retreat! Removing Barriers to the Ballot Box for Formerly Incarcerated People in Louisiana.” The white paper unveils the 64-parish survey of the registrars of voters, while also highlighting the historical challenges faced by Louisiana voters with felony convictions when trying to register to vote.  

Shockingly, only 23 out of 46 parishes, or 50%, correctly stated that people on probation who have never been to prison are eligible to register and vote, demonstrating a dangerous lack of registrar knowledge despite established changes in the law. This is reflected in the white paper’s voter participation findings. Only one in ten eligible voters on supervision in Louisiana are registered to vote and only one in five eligible voters with older convictions are voting, compared to seven out of ten in the adult-citizen voting population. Currently there are approximately 300,000 eligible but unregistered voters with convictions in the state and a disproportionate number are Black.  

The white paper is a call to action for Louisiana to eradicate the paperwork requirement and other barriers to the ballot box for approximately 300,000 eligible but unregistered voters with convictions.  

“These low levels of participation are alarming. Based on our work at the local level, we at VOTE have long identified the lack of knowledge among registrars. Act 636 and Act 127 are sound policies, but barriers remain, and Louisiana must do better and keep moving in a pro-democracy direction. Louisiana must pass HB 396 and clear the paperwork barrier,” said Bruce Reilly, Deputy Director of VOTE. 

“There are hundreds of thousands of people who are currently eligible to vote in Louisiana after past convictions. But it’s one thing to have the legal right to vote, and another thing to actually get the information you need and exercise that right. I worry about the barriers people face in getting accurate information about voting and making it onto the rolls,” said Dr. Ariel White, Associate Professor of Political Science at MIT. 

This white paper has been released as the Louisiana House Governmental Affairs Committee hears House Bill 396 on Wednesday. This bill from Rep. Sam Jenkins and Rep. Wilford Carter, Sr. will streamline the voter registration process by removing the extra paperwork requirement. This bill is an extension of the work spearheaded by Voice of the Experienced (VOTE), who have fought for decades to expand voting rights to people living in the community with felony convictions. After a landmark victory in 2018, VOTE worked with the Secretary of State and Department of Public Safety and Corrections (DOC) to streamline the registration process in 2021, but there is more to be done. Although the DOC directly reports voter eligibility information to the Secretary of State, aspiring voters are being forced to hand-deliver redundant eligibility paperwork to become registered.  

“Every eligible voter deserves to have their voice heard at the ballot box. This is a matter of equity, but also of justice and the principles we uphold as a democracy. People must be able to vote without barriers or obstacles,” said Judith Browne Dianis, Executive Director at Advancement Project. 

Louisiana’s documentary proof of eligibility requirement may also be a violation of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), according to a lawsuit recently filed on behalf of VOTE, Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, the League of Women Voters of Louisiana, and their members with past convictions who are seeking to register to vote after their rights were restored. HB 396, if passed, would render the lawsuit moot.  

The white paper is available at 
https://www.voiceoftheexperienced.org/s/2023_0509-No-Surrender-No-Retreat-White-Paper.pdf  

Information about the lawsuit, VOTE v. Ardoin, can be found here, and the complaint can be found here. For more information, please contact Anisha Shetty at anisha@voiceoftheexperienced.org or 757-560-2781. 

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Voice of the Experienced (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. We build power through community organizing, policy advocacy, and civic engagement. Together we have the experiences, expertise and power to improve public safety in Louisiana and beyond without relying on mass incarceration. 

Advancement Project 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 to learn more. 

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