Federal Court Upholds Louisiana Felony Re-Enfranchisement Policy, But Allows Lawsuit To Continue 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Louisiana voters whose registrations were suspended due to a felony conviction must continue to provide extra documentary proof of eligibility to vote while a lawsuit challenging the policy continues, a court ruled.

On Monday, a federal judge determined that civil rights groups’ challenge of Louisiana’s policy for re-enfranchising “suspended citizens” has deficiencies. In light of these technical problems with the lawsuit, the court is allowing the plaintiffs to amend their complaint, and if they fix these issues, the lawsuit will be allowed to proceed. 

In Louisiana, the right to vote is restored to someone who was incarcerated for a felony conviction after they have completed their sentence or once five years have passed since their incarceration. If the voter was not previously registered, they can register to vote like any other voter. However, if the individual was registered to vote prior to their conviction, they must present documentary proof of eligibility.

Last May, several voting rights groups filed a lawsuit challenging Louisiana’s voter registration policy for those with prior felony convictions. The lawsuit specifically challenges the state’s voter registration policy regarding “suspended” voters: citizens who were previously registered to vote and whose registration was suspended due to a felony conviction. “Louisiana has attempted to create a bifurcated process for accepting voter registration forms for people with convictions,” the complaint explains.

The plaintiffs argued that the state’s policy violated the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) because the documentary proof of eligibility requirement for previously registered voters with prior felony convictions “exceeds the information necessary for election officials to assess an applicant’s eligibility, particularly given the guaranteed statutory access election officials have to the requisite information.” The court dismissed the plaintiffs’ NVRA claims, but allowed the plaintiffs’ other claims to proceed. 

The plaintiffs also argue that the re-enfranchisement policy violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment because “suspended” voters with prior felony convictions attempting to register to vote are treated differently than new registrants with past convictions. This claim will move forward.

The plaintiffs also point out how this requirement is rooted in racist history writing: “the paperwork requirement for suspended voters is a part of a long history of erecting additional barriers for individuals with felony convictions to gain access to the franchise in Louisiana, a practice with Jim Crow-era origins.” 

The court wrote that although the scheme subjects “thousands to a cat-and-mouse document chase” and “is a severe burden on one’s right to vote,” it will not be temporarily blocked due to problems with the plaintiffs’ claims. However, the lawsuit will proceed and the case is set to go to trial in January 2025. 

This is not the first lawsuit to specifically target the intricacies of a state’s voter registration process for disparately impacting individuals with prior felony convictions. The League of Women Voters of Florida and the Florida State Conference of the NAACP filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s voter registration application, but it was subsequently dismissed. 

Read the opinion here.

Learn more about the case here.