Louisiana voters overwhelmingly agreed Tuesday to end a shameful Jim Crow-era split jury law, joining 48 other states and the federal government by requiring a unanimous jury for a conviction on non-capital felony offenses. Amendment 2 was supported by a broad, bipartisan coalition that included nonprofit legal advocacy organizations, both major parties and many (but not all) district attorneys. Sen. J.P. Morrell of New Orleans, who shepherded the amendment through the Legislature, spoke on the amendment’s passage:
“In one night, you have fundamentally changed criminal justice in the state of Louisiana,” said Morrell to the crowd at the Market shortly after news that the amendment passed. “I was putting my two-year-old to bed. I had chills. I said, ‘You know what? This kid is going to wake up in a different state.’” … “This bill passing was a combination of your (the Unanimous Jury Coalition) hard work and decades of relationships built across this state to bring people together who never agree on anything to say, now is the time,” Morrell said.
Election Day recap
The midterm election cycle was not as contentious in Louisiana as it was in other states across the country, but voters still had a slew of important decisions to make. All six incumbent congressmen in the state won election, two candidates were selected for a runoff in the election for secretary of state and voters approved every proposed constitutional amendment. The Advocate’s staff break down Election Day results in Louisiana:
Voters in all six of Louisiana’s congressional districts re-elected their incumbent congressmen, sending the state’s five Republicans and one Democrat back to Washington for new two-year terms. … The runoff to decide the next secretary of state will be between a Republican who spent about a quarter of a million dollars and a Democrat who raised less than a thousand. … Voters approved all six constitutional amendments on Tuesday’s ballot, including two measures on criminal justice and one to restrict state highway spending.
A big night for Medicaid expansion
Health care was a driving force on Election Day, as exit polls consistently showed that voters considered it the most important issue when casting their ballots. This should come as no surprise, as the popularity of the Affordable Care Act and its pre-existing conditions protections have been rising since Republicans in Congress tried to repeal the law. Medicaid expansion also proved to be popular in other states, with voters in Idaho, Nebraska and Utah all approving ballot measures to provide health insurance to low-income residents. Axios’ Sam Baker reports on other states that elected new governors who are likely to expand the popular program, and a missed opportunity in another.
Democrats also won hard-fought gubernatorial races in Kansas and Wisconsin, putting expansion at least on the table in those 2 states — Kansas especially.
The other side: Democrats lost some enticing races with potentially big Medicaid stakes — namely, the Florida governor spot.
And don’t forget about Maine. Democrat Janet Mills will take over for outgoing Gov. Paul LePage (who, in the most on-brand announcement I’ve ever seen, already announced he’s moving to Florida).
Past debts impede voting rights
Ex-offenders in some states have their voting rights taken away long after they have served their time. These individuals, like 48-year-old Treva Thompson, are cut off from civic engagement not because of their past convictions, but because of their their inability to pay for outstanding financial obligations associated with their conviction. Saddling ex-offenders with debt and withholding voting rights impedes their ability to reintegrate into society after a period of incarceration. Further, policies like this disproportionately affect low-income communities and communities of color. The Washington Post’s Karin Martin reports:
To be sure, those who break the law should repay their debt to society. But they shouldn’t have to keep repaying it for the rest of their lives, simply because they’re poor. And they definitely shouldn’t be excluded from the political process that gives all Americans a say in the future of their communities. They’re helping pay for a system while being denied the opportunity that other citizens have to influence the way that system is run. It’s wrong. As Thompson puts it, “Even being a convicted felon and owing money, you should still have the right to voice your opinion.”
Number of the Day
64.35 – Percent of voters who approved of Amendment 2 that requires a unanimous jury to convict a person charged with a non-capital felony offense. (Source: Louisiana Secretary of State)