Lawmakers question multistep voting registration for felons


Louisiana officials said Friday that they have nailed down the voting registration method they’ll use for thousands of convicted felons whose rights will be restored under a law taking effect March 1.

Some lawmakers on the House and Governmental Affairs Committee, which oversees voting issues, said the multiple-step process is too complicated. They also want more outreach to announce the voting rights restoration that will be available to an estimated 36,000 felons.

“This is huge for Louisiana. This is great. I just want to make sure we make the process as easy and as simple as possible,” said Rep. Gary Carter, a New Orleans Democrat. “This is a fundamental right.”

Louisiana legislators voted last year to allow people on probation or parole for a felony to register to vote if they haven’t been incarcerated for at least five years. Natalie LaBorde, with the corrections department, estimated more than 36,000 people meet that definition, thousands more than some lawmakers said they expected when they debated the measure.

Under plans devised by elections and corrections officials, felons will have to get a form from their probation or parole officers and bring that to their local registrar of voters office to sign up to vote in the next available election.

Carter suggested the state should consider automating registration, to keep people from having to make multiple trips in person to register to vote. Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, the state’s top elections official, said that would require legislative action.

“If you want it to work faster, then you are going to have to change the law,” Ardoin said.

Rep. Sam Jenkins, a Shreveport Democrat, asked what steps Ardoin’s office had taken to notify the public about the voting eligibility changes. Ardoin replied: “None yet.” Even the registrars of voters who will handle the forms hadn’t received information by Friday’s meeting.

Ardoin, who opposed the voting rights change, said he wanted to work out the registration process with the Department of Corrections before reaching out about the plans. With that done, he said his office was sending information to registrars later Friday and following up with phone calls next week to answer questions.

As for notification of the people who might be eligible to vote, Ardoin said he’ll put information about the law change on his agency website, but he planned no other notification effort. He said he’s urging advocates for the voting rights restoration to provide such details.

Jenkins and Carter said they’ll seek tweaks to the law in the upcoming legislative session that begins in April to streamline the process for felons to register to vote if they meet the law’s requirements.

“I want a nice percentage of these 36,000 people to actually register and vote in the election this fall,” Carter said.

He also asked if the corrections department could release information about the felons who are eligible to register to vote under the new law, saying he’d like to reach out to people on the list to make sure they know about their rights.

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