A Baton Rouge state judge on Monday reluctantly upheld a 1976 Louisiana law that prohibits roughly 71,000 felons on probation and parole from voting.
One of those people, 71-year-old Checo Yancy of Baton Rouge, attended the hearing at the 19th Judicial District Court.
"I may never get a chance to vote because of my age," he said outside District Judge Tim Kelley's courtroom. Yancy was released from prison in 2003 after serving 20 years but won't finish the term of his parole until 2056.
In his ruling from the bench minutes earlier, Kelley said he agreed with Yancy and his fellow plaintiffs who challenged the law that it is unfair, but he said he cannot bend the law.
"Twice a year I have to make a ruling I don't like. I don't like this ruling," the judge said.
Bill Quigley, one of the attorneys for the eight individual plaintiffs and a group called Voice of the Ex-Offender, or VOTE, said Kelley's decision will be appealed to the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge. If the judge had struck down the law, the case would have moved directly to the Louisiana Supreme Court.
The 1974 state Constitution banned people "under an order of imprisonment" for the conviction of a felony from voting, but the 1976 state law altered the definition of who can vote to exclude felons on probation and parole.
Lani Durio, an attorney for Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler, argued to Kelley during a hearing that the phrase "under an order of imprisonment" doesn't necessarily mean "actual imprisonment." Felons on probation or parole are still under an order of imprisonment because they can be sent back to prison if they violate the terms or conditions of their probation or parole, she said.
Quigley argued the probation and parole restriction infringes on the fundamental right to vote of felons who may be working and paying taxes.
"It's like the Boston Tea Party. Taxation without representation," Yancy said afterward, noting that he drives his wife to the polls so she can vote but sits in the car while she casts her ballot.
"It doesn't seem fair, does it?" Kelley asked rhetorically moments before he let the law stand.
The judge, however, said the bottom line for him is that if felons on probation or parole violate their probation or parole, then the state can "implement the pending order of imprisonment" and send them back to prison.
"How do you get around that? That's where I have the biggest problem," Kelley said. "If I take your position I'm bending the law. I like your position."
Norris Henderson, executive director of VOTE, said the group will support state lawmakers in proposing bills and laws to amend the state Constitution.
The state House of Representatives rejected a bill last year that would have allowed people on felony probation or parole to vote.