Speakers rally crowd with fiery political rhetoric _lowres

Photo by MARK H. HUNTER -- State Rep. Randall Gaines told about 200 people gathered on the State Capitol steps on July 25, 2015 that their voting rights are being eroded.

Recently, The Advocate published a column opposing a new law that will allow veterans and others who have paid their debt to our society to regain the most basic right of every citizen in good standing, the right to vote. The author of the attack on the legislation aims to divide us against ourselves and distract from what we already agree upon.

But the new law will benefit every family in our state.

Act 636, authored by state Rep. Patricia Smith, gives once-incarcerated people the right to vote only after they have demonstrated successful citizenship for five years following their term of imprisonment. As a result, the law will allow for the option to register to vote for many of our Veterans who have returned home permanently altered by their service, and many who were convicted of crimes after experiencing the trauma of a violent childhood. The legislation’s opponent adopted a vitriolic, click-bait tone and neglected to inform the readers of pertinent facts.

Louisiana has the distinctly embarrassing and highly immoral highest wrongful conviction rate in the nation. That means that in Louisiana, more people are sent to jail for crimes they didn’t commit than in any other state in the United States. The article didn’t mention that historic criminal justice reforms have saved the state millions, and some of that money — about $8.54 million — has been dedicated to decreasing our state’s recidivism rate. The author opines that only certain “demographics” want to prevent crime, but preventing crime is a bipartisan goal with broad, bipartisan support. 

There are no justifiable reasons to deny formerly incarcerated people the right to vote. Historically, the majority of the organized efforts employed to deny individuals the right to vote have in fact been racially motivated.

Our state has invested great political capital, time to study the matter and executed proven policies that have produced return on investment for taxpayers and made our state safer by preventing recidivism among those who have already been incarcerated. With all that energy expended to keep people out of jail, any effort to prevent them from voting would significantly undermine the spirit and intent of those laudable efforts.

If Louisiana is to continue to progress forward as a state, it is absolutely necessary that we continue to rise above prejudicial misconceptions that replicate the social ills which burden many or our communities. It is also vitally important that we embrace a vision for this great state that prioritizes hope and enlightenment. The passage of Act 636 is an indispensable component of that compelling vision.

State Rep. Randal Gaines

chair, Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus