La. Senate approves bill that would allow some felons to vote once out of prison

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - There were tears of joy on the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon because Louisiana's voting population could soon expand. Some lawmakers are attempting to restore voting rights to certain criminals.

"It's a feeling I really can't explain," said Checo Yancy, a former prisoner who hasn't been able to vote since 1983.

Today, he is one step closer to casting his ballot again.

"When I go with my family, I don't have to sit in the car. Now I can actually go into the polls and I can vote too." Yancy said. "Wow, what a feeling."

The State Senate approved Baton Rouge Rep. Pat Smith's bill that would allow felons who have been out of prison for at least five years to register to vote. Smith says her bill would affect between 2,000 and 3,000 people.

Louisianans on parole have been barred from the voting booth after their release for over 40 years.

"We'll be first at the polls. I'm going to beat people to the polls and we're going to try and encourage people to get out and vote because our vote counts," Yancy said.

The measure failed twice on the House floor this session and could not get out of committee in years past. Rep. Smith says she stuck with the bill because parolees' personal stories stuck with her.

"A lot of these folks work every day. They pay taxes to our state and our federal government. Here we had a group of people that were just so adamant about wanting to vote before they die," Smith said.

Smith and Yancy say their work isn't over. The next step is spreading the word to Louisiana's newest voters.

"I already know all the people to vote for. I keep up with that," said Yancy.

A handful of lawyers have unsuccessfully challenged the voting restrictions' constitutionality in court and some of those battles are still ongoing. But if this bill passes, it would take effect in March of 2019.

The bill now heads back to the house and then likely to the governor's desk for a signature.

Copyright 2018 WAFB. All rights reserved.