Some 2,000 felons in Louisiana will have their voting rights restored in March, after Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law Thursday a measure that allows people who have been out of prison for five years but remain on probation or parole to register to vote.

Edwards, a Democrat, signed the law during a packed ceremony in his State Capitol office.

Currently, people convicted of felonies can only regain the right to vote once they complete probation or parole, which has meant that some felons would never have a chance to vote again in their lives.

Edwards, who was surrounded by supporters of what has been a years-long effort, declined to make a formal statement at the signing and instead encouraged legislators to get back to work on passing a state budget before the special session ends at midnight Monday.

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According to the Department of Corrections, about 2,200 offenders have been under the Division of Probation and Parole's supervision for five years or more – about 3 percent of the more than 70,000 people on probation or parole for felony crimes.

The passage of House Bill 265 took multiple attempts in the regular session before it passed.

"They pay their taxes, but they don't even get a chance to vote for you as their representative or any other person," Rep. Pat Smith, a Baton Rouge Democrat who authored HB265 said during a lengthy debate on the legislation. "All we're trying to do is give them the right to vote — most of them say — before they die."

The state Constitution prohibits people “under an order of imprisonment” on a felony conviction from voting. A 1976 law expanded that to people convicted of felonies and still on probation or parole.

A state appellate court in April refused to reconsider a ruling upholding the legality of the law, forwarding the lawsuit challenging it to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.