In 2018, the state unwisely changed the law regarding the ability of felons to vote, permitting them the franchise five years after sentencing if not imprisoned (as long as the felony didn’t relate to elections) as opposed to sentence completion. Not including provisions of a redemptive nature missed a chance to discourage marginally serious crime and to encourage rehabilitation.
Potentially, the law could have given a nontrivial advantage to Democrats. Simply, blacks disproportionately commit felonies, who also register decisively as Democrats, and sampling infers that in the felon population as a whole its members register disproportionately as Democrats compared to the general population. Thus, the party’s candidates could benefit.
However, for 2019 at least it appears Democrats will garner next to no advantage as a result of this law, which its backers testified would add just a few thousand potentially to the rolls but who kept quiet that it would end up multiplying this several times because of ambiguous wording in the law. But that same imprecision ending up ameliorating that possibility.
The act stated that a felon could gain eligibility “if the person submits documentation to the registrar of voters from the appropriate correction official showing that the person has not been incarcerated pursuant to the order within the last five years.” Thus, it became a matter of defining “the appropriate corrections official.”
Ardoin didn’t even need to issue a rule on that. He declared to registrars, quite sensibly, that a parole or probation officer was that official in the case of felons still under sentence five years past conviction not imprisoned. Every felon in this situation has one, and it takes next to no effort for the officer to confirm the date of sentencing. It’s up to registrars to determine documentation, and that’s as simple as a letter.
Yet even such a low hurdle apparently is too much for almost every newly-eligible felon. State statistics show little sign that these individuals are taking advantage of this opportunity. By the numbers, since the law came into effect not even 600 felons have petitioned for reinstatement – and some portion qualified before the alteration of the law.
Naturally, this displeases the special interests behind the law’s change, because they have an agenda friendly to the political left and Democrats and want felon registration en masse. They complain even the almost nonexistent, lax, but logical given the law’s wording requirement for reinstatement makes it too difficult, and hope that future policy can shoehorn in some kind of automatic reinstatement.
Yet they protest against human nature: you can hand a person an opportunity to register to vote, but you just can’t make them do it. Because America has a self-registration system, committing that act demonstrates at least some minimal desire of community engagement and competence in administering affairs; i.e. you have to want to and develop the cognitive capacity to do it. And, sad to say, the same characteristics of individuals that made them want to cut corners and declare themselves at war with society by acting as if they were above the law that applies to all, if these have not changed as a result of their punishment, likewise discourage involvement with politics and community life.
Ardoin chose wisely in not choosing something like having the Department of Corrections use taxpayer resources in compiling a list of eligible felons and sending them to registrars – which undoubtedly Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards would have ordered to help out his reelection campaign and those of his party’s – because if you care about your community the least you can do is take 30 seconds to ask your parole or probation officer to provide the documentation and another half-minute to collect it. If you’re not so willing, you don’t care enough.
The republic doesn’t need any more of that kind of voter too easily exploited by political elites. If you want to see more felons register, embark on outreach (even though state notification laws don’t seem to boost registrations). Run ads with someone in an orange jumpsuit exhorting felons to register; that approach has worked for Democrats trying to get elected to the bench. Regardless, Ardoin nor legislators should change existing policy.