Voting signs (stock election)

A stack of signs are stacked at the Louisiana Voting Machine Warehouse 

Voters on Nov. 6 will decide the fate of six constitutional amendments, including one that has sparked national attention on felony convictions.

They will also determine whether online fantasy sports contests for cash prizes will be allowed, with residents of each parish deciding whether the rules are changed in their parish.

"Tens of thousands of people play fantasy football," said Rep. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge and legislative sponsor of the proposal. "It is just fun."

Early voting starts on Tuesday and runs through Oct. 30 except for Sunday Oct. 28.

Each measure requires majority approval to take effect, with the caveat on the fantasy sports measure.

The proposal that has triggered the most attention – Constitutional Amendment No. 2 – would make Louisiana the 49th state to abolish split-jury verdicts.

Under current rules, those accused of most serious felonies can be convicted if 10 of 12 jurors vote that way. The policy is a holdover from the Jim Crow-era, and was placed in the Louisiana Constitution as a way to perpetuate white supremacy.

In a major surprise, the amendment breezed through the Legislature earlier this year with bipartisan support.

Former Grant Parish District Attorney Ed Tarpley, one of the leaders of the effort, said he was shocked in 2015 to learn the sordid history of the split jury rule, which does not apply to capital cases.

"The question I ask is simply this: How can you say a person has been convicted beyond a reasonable doubt if one or two people on the jury have a reasonable doubt?" said Tarpley, now a criminal defense attorney in Alexandria.

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"It just shows how illegal the law in Louisiana really is," he added. "It simply doesn't make any sense."

State Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, sponsor of the amendment, said he had doubted the proposal would even win Senate approval, but it roared through the Legislature.

"It is really an opportunity for Louisiana to get ahead of a Louisiana problem and solve it in a way that makes sense, rather than having the federal government doing it for us," Morrell said Friday.

"There is no justification beyond the fact that it makes it easier for government to take away your freedom," he said of the current policy.

Public criticism of the amendment is rare.

Attorney General Jeff Landry has criticized the proposal, but has no interest in elaborating on his views, a spokeswoman for Landry said on Thursday.

A smattering of district attorneys and sheriffs are opposed to the change. "It is difficult to combat misinformation when the misinformation is being whispered," Morrell said.

Backers said that, aside from concerns about low turnout, they are confident the amendment will win approval and leave only Oregon with a split-jury rule.

Campaign finance records show the effort has generated donations from a wide range of sources, including a lobbying group that includes Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as one of its founders, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The plan is one of two amendments focused on the states's criminal justice system.

The other one, Constitutional Amendment No. 1, would ban convicted felons from seeking public office until five years after their sentence is completed.

The state's previous rule imposed a 15-year ban. But that limit was struck down in 2016 by the state Supreme Court for technical reasons.

Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, legislative sponsor of the amendment, hoped to re-install an eight-year ban but his initial push lost steam in the Legislature.

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"Our state has this terrible reputation for corruption," Appel said, adding, "When an elected official takes an oath to the people of Louisiana they have an obligation.

"I have no sympathy for them," Appel said. "They need to stay away from political life for a while."

Like the split-jury amendment, this one lacks any organized opposition.

Another measure, Constitutional Amendment No. 4, is aimed in part at helping to restore voter confidence in state road and bridge spending.

Current law allows the state to use its key source of transportation funding – called the Transportation Trust Fund – to also go to State Police for traffic control purposes. The amendment would end that practice.

A state law earlier capped those transfers at $10 million per year, and Gov. John Bel Edwards stopped the practice entirely two years ago.

Backers say putting in a constitutional prohibition will prevent it from ever happening, and may eventually help convince voters to support a gas tax hike if they are more confident of state spending practices.

The three other constitutional proposals have gotten little attention.

One of those plans, Constitutional Amendment No. 6, is aimed at protecting some homeowners, especially in New Orleans and Lake Charles, from grappling with huge property tax hikes.

Under the plan, if a property  reassessment of a primary residence, which qualifies for a homestead exemption, rises by more than 50 percent the increase would be phased in over four years.

Morrell, who also sponsored that amendment in the Legislature, said elderly and other homeowners in New Orleans, because of new Airnb's and other changes, are facing huge property tax increases. He said the same is true in Lake Charles, which has seen explosive residential growth because of the oil and gas boom.

Morrell said a four-year phase-in will allow homeowners to either prepare financially for the higher assessments or give them ample time to sell their homes. 

Another little-watched proposal, Constitutional Amendment No. 5, would allow homeowners to put their property in a trust, such as for their grandchildren.

While properties are already eligible for a homestead exemption, there are questions on whether other exemptions apply, according to an analysis by the Public Affairs Research Council.

Like the property tax proposal, the trust measure may spark concerns about chipping away at tax bases.

Sen. Dale Erdey, R-Livingston, said Constitutional Amendment No. 3, which he sponsored, stemmed from an episode involving Denham Springs. The amendment would allow political subdivisions, including municipalities and water districts, to donate and loan equipment to each other.

"It just makes sense," he said. "It is public equipment."

Erdey said the problem arose when Denham Springs officials loaned equipment to the city of Walker. That ran afoul of a constitutional prohibition, which was noted in a state legislative audit.

The amendment would not allow borrowing between the state and local governments – just between two local governments.

Online fantasy sports sites, including DraftKings and FanDuel, have followings in 19 states, charge entry fees, and pay cash prizes.

The ballot measure, which is not a constitutional amendment, would undo the ban on that kind of wagering in Louisiana.

However, the plan also offers voters a local option – the new rules would only apply in parishes that approve it.

Talbot said he is confident that technology – called geofencing – would prevent out-of-parish players from betting on online sports. "You ain't getting on it," he said.

The Louisiana Family Forum opposed the plan in the Legislature and remains opposed.

"The biggest reason is we see this as an expansion of gambling," said Kathleen Benfield, legislative director for the group that calls itself an advocate for family values. "This is the first time that gambling would be allowed in the home, outside of a traditional gambling establishment."

Benfield also disputed arguments that residents of parishes that reject the proposal will be kept off the sites. "There are ways around it, like using virtual private networks, private servers," she said. 

The proposal is also opposed by the Louisiana Baptist Convention, which called the measure insidious.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.