Last year, the Louisiana legislature was able to take steps to expand voting rights in the state. Lawmakers worked together to automatically restore voting rights to people with felony convictions who have not been incarcerated within the past five years. The measure enfranchised approximately 36,000 citizens on March 1 of this year. Although the measure did not restore the right to vote to all citizens as should be the case, it was a step in the right direction. However, this year Louisiana’s state legislative session followed a typical path as GOP legislators attempted to make voting harder and Democrats introduced measures to expand voting rights.

Louisiana Democrats introduced legislation (HB 402) that would make it easier to register to vote for the 36,000 citizens who recently regained the right to vote. Currently, individuals need to get voter registration paperwork from their parole/probation officer and then appear in person at the voter registrar in order to register. The proposal would have removed the requirement that individuals appear at the voter registrar in order to register to vote. The legislation failed due to GOP opposition. We should be working to make it more accessible for eligible voters to vote, not putting up barriers. 

Democratic legislators also proposed a bill that would establish automatic voter registration (SB 58), a proven step to increase voter registration, but the legislation died due to GOP opposition. 

At the same time, a Louisiana Republican legislator tried to make it harder for people to vote living in isolated areas. State Rep. Gregory Miller introduced a bill (HB 202) that would allow a polling place to be closed if there were fewer than 10 registered voters at the polling place. This is bad for American democracy as other emerging democracies have worked to ensure the principle that every vote and voter matters. In India this year, election workers traveled 300 miles over four days in order to set up a polling location for a single voter! American politicians need to show the same dedication to voting.

Louisiana lawmakers were able to pass one measure that should promote democracy in the state. The Senate passed a resolution (SR 11) directing the Department of Education to prepare age appropriate, non-partisan voter education materials for school children. Instilling the importance of democracy in children at a young age is crucial for our society.

Outside of work done in the legislature, Louisiana was sued in July by voting rights activists to challenge discriminatory maps to elect State Supreme Court judges. Since 1813, only 2 of 114 justices have been African-American.