WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Monday, May 1, 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. 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. “Louisiana has attempted to create a bifurcated process for accepting voter registration forms for people with convictions,” the complaint explains.
The complaint alleges that this practice violates 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.” Additionally, the plaintiffs claim that this practice 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. The complaint argues that “[t]he 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.”
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. Just last week, 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. The plaintiffs in the Florida lawsuit specifically argue that the application’s lack of information regarding voter eligibility, especially as it pertains to citizens with prior felony convictions, violates the NVRA.