For convicted felons, restored voting rights reflect rehabilitation

617

Nathan Wilson
As a local business owner, Joshua Levo has navigated the process of establishing an LLC, Get It How Ya Live Productions, but it’s another task on the Louisiana Secretary of State’s website that has him at a loss. “I don’t know, as of right now, if I can vote,” he says. He’s unclear about his eligibility because of felony charges on his record.
Levo doesn’t consider himself especially political; his societal ambition is to promote healthy eating and he admits to having ignored elections and politics until recently. “I never really was educated about voting. I guess you could say I didn’t take it that serious, but I do now,” he says. Along with his photography studio, he’s also rearing a daughter with his girlfriend, so now he’s interested in understanding how voting affects his family and their future. “People need to be educated about their voting rights,” he says. “I am one of the people who needs to know.”

This article published in the Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, print edition.

As Registrar of Voters, Kathrin Holden serves the citizens of Natchitoches Parish to ensure they’re able to exercise their right to vote. Along with registering new voters and updating records for existing voters, she’s able to answer most questions that come her way about voting rights. When it comes to convicted felons, however, she defers to the Department of Public Safety and Corrections. “We send them over to probation and parole and they get a certificate or a letter, and they bring that back over here,” she says. “We reinstate them like that, but only if they have that paperwork from probation and parole.”
Holden explains that with the appropriate paperwork in hand, a convicted felon’s voting registration takes no longer than anyone else’s application. “Once we put their application in, we tell them that they’ll be receiving their voter’s card in anywhere between seven to 10 business days.” While she believes the process is reasonably straightforward, she suggests it could be better publicized. “We could maybe post it more, and let them know that if they are a convicted felon, they have rights and they could be reinstated,” she says.
The probation and parole office where Holden sends Natchitoches voters is responsible for tracking the voting eligibility of every felon it processes in five parishes. District Manager Adam Lund says felons typically have their voting rights reinstated when their parole period ends. “When we close their case we automatically generate a voter’s certification that gets mailed out to them,” he says. “As soon as they get off parole, they’re eligible to vote.”
Some felons have their voting rights reinstated before their parole ends, and people convicted of serious crimes are more likely to be authorized to vote before finishing their parole. The reason is because Louisiana law restores a felon’s franchise five years after their release from prison. “They would have to be on parole for more than five years, with no period of incarceration for five years, to be eligible,” says Lund. Other felons never lose their voting rights at all. “If they get a probation sentence, (meaning) they get a fully suspended sentence (and) they don’t put them under incarceration at all, they’re eligible to vote right then and there as a convicted felon,” Lund explains.
Levo remains a little unclear about his eligibility because he’s on probation, but he spent an extended period in Nathchitoches Parish Detention Center along the way. “I came home in 2019,” he says. He expects his probation to end soon. “I get off next year, next May, so that’ll be five years.”

For cases where a felon is uncertain, Lund suggests they reach out to his office located at 935 Fourth St. “They would just have to come to the office and request a voter certification form. We put it through our system, make sure they’re eligible, (and) if it pops it out and says they’re eligible, all we have to do is sign it, put our embossment on it, give it to them and they give it to the registrar of voters,” he says. ““We’re not going to automatically generate it. They’re going to have to come in and get it from us.
The only time we automatically generate it is when we close the case.”
Lund suggests most felons are reinstated when their case is closed, and he doesn’t see many people coming in to ask for reinstatement. “I’m the one who signs it and puts the seal on it, and then it gets sent out to them,” he says. “I sign a whole lot of them because we close cases every month.” He says it’s relatively rare for felons to reach out to him to be reinstated to vote. “It’s not like a wave of people coming in here to get it,” he says. “In terms of ones that just come in and ask for it, maybe once a month or so I’ll sign one.”
Levo says he’s determined to find out whether he’s eligible to vote in time for the coming election. “I most definitely need to make sure; if I’m allowed to vote, I vote,” he says. “I am trying to educate myself; that’s why I’ve been attending the Voter’s and Civic League.” He plans to encourage others to vote whether he’s eligible or not. “If I can vote or I can’t, I’m still going to do the same thing. I’m still going to be trying to encourage people and inform people that it’s important to vote,” he says.
With the mid-term elections drawing near, there are two deadlines prospective voters need to know if they haven’t registered yet. Those wishing to register in person or by mail have until Oct. 11, while online registrants have an extra week before the Oct. 18 deadline. In both cases, voters are encouraged to learn about the candidates and individual ballot items before they step into the polling station Nov. 8.