November 2, 2018

What You Need to Know About Louisiana’s Secretary of State Race

While much of our focus has been on encouraging voters to #VoteYeson2 and #VoteNo1, it is also crucial that we highlight the importance of the Secretary of State race. Among the responsibilities that the incoming Secretary of State will be in charge of is the implementation of Act 636, which will restore voting rights to over 40,000 Louisiana citizens. Currently, people must complete their probation or parole sentences before they can regain voting rights. Act 636 changes this in four months, specifically allowing voting rights to people who have been incarceration-free while on probation, and people on parole for over five years. The law goes into effect on March 1, 2019, and its implementation is central to the Secretary of State’s job.

As of now, only two candidates have released statements about how they will follow the law, and how they will ensure that voting rights are protected.  

During a candidate forum hosted by Justice and Beyond, Democratic candidate Renee Fontenot Free stated “it is not good enough for me to wait for somebody that’s on probation or parole to want to vote. It’s incumbent upon me to go to DOC and say ‘give me your records, tell me who is going to be eligible to vote…let me reach out to them.’” She is committed to engagement and education that will make all citizens of Louisiana excited to vote, especially people who were merely given probation by the judge and required to be upstanding citizens. Ms. Free worked in two previous Secretary of State administrations and is the only candidate to fill out the Know Your Vote candidate survey that covers this issue.

At the same forum, Democratic candidate Gwen Collins-Greenup expressed her support for Act 636. She emphasized the importance of voter education, noting that many formerly incarcerated people do not know if they can or cannot vote, once they are released. Collins-Greenup believes that it is the Secretary of State’s responsibility to actively educate all citizens, including illiterate and disabled voters. She also believes it is within the Secretary of State’s duties to work with the Department of Corrections (DOC) and various local organizations to register people to vote under Act 636.

The acting Secretary of State, Republican Kyle Ardoin, testified about the challenges of implementing Act 636 before it was signed into law, when it was still House Bill 265, as he had about variations on the bill during previous legislative sessions. However, now that the restoration of voting rights outlined in Act 636 is mandated, he said it will not be a problem for the Secretary of State to work with the DOC on implementation. There are no indications as to whether he has done any preparation for February or March. If people are going to have voting rights on March 1st, they will need to have a registration system similar to 17-year-olds who turn 18 on Election Day.

Republican candidates Julie Stokes and Rick Edmonds both voted against HB 265, while they were state legislators. Neither candidate has released a statement or opinion about how they plan to implement the new law, if elected. The window to adjust the registration system, train the parish officials, create a better data exchange with the Department of Corrections, outreach eligible voters, and print new materials will close in fast after the election, which certainly will go to a December 8th run-off.

The remaining four candidates, Republicans Heather Cloud, A.G. Crowe, and Thomas J. Kennedy, and Independent Matthew Paul Moreau have also not publicly spoken about their plans to implement Act 636.

In the next few days leading up to the primary election on November 6, and during the time between the primary and the runoff, it is crucial to pay attention to what these candidates are saying about their plans to implement Act 636. It is a very important law that will positively impact thousands of people throughout Louisiana. It is our top priority that we elect a Secretary of State who will ensure that each and every eligible individual is able to easily and quickly regain their voting rights.

Stay tuned for a candidate forum, November 14th, following the primary.

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