Argument over felon voting becoming terse circus
BATON ROUGE – There were more swings Tuesday in what has become a fight over how confusing state laws are interpreted.
The governor’s office fired back at the interim Secretary of State – who on Friday and again Monday – called for an investigation and audit into how the governor-appointed managers of the Louisiana Department of Corrections determine the names that appear on a list of people who cannot vote because of felony convictions. The situation initially sparked Friday when WBRZ uncovered Robert Myer, the former mayor of New Roads, voted. Myer was ordered to a year-long probation in January after pleading no contest to a felony malfeasance in office charge.
Myer should not have voted, election controllers and local law authorities evaluated when they spoke with WBRZ Chief Investigator Chris Nakamoto Friday.
Twice on Friday, publicists for the state prison system and then the governor's office maintained Myer voted because he completed his probation early under a little-known state law that can cut probation in half.
Myer was released earlier this summer from probation, thus allowing him to vote in the midterm election, the governor’s office said then.
Tuesday, though, the governor’s office added more vitriol – calling the Secretary of State’s request for an investigation a political play. [Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin] is playing “political football in his ongoing campaign for office,” the governor’s office wrote in a sharp letter to Ardoin.
The governor’s office letter outlined opposite state laws of the Secretary of State and built its own defense for why Myer voted.
Changing its original position and adding Myer received a legal “benefit” through a legal code known as article 893 allowing him to vote – though state law records do not explicitly outline anything about voting rights.
Ardoin and others’ interpretation of the situation, the governor said, is “extremely troubling.”
The governor’s office responded with yet another defense Wednesday, outlining a third reason why information was not shared among state and local authorities. A spokesperson said Myer was sentenced under a special agreement a select group of judges in Louisiana made that gave felons an ability to avoid a new hearing before being released from probation.
Fifty-two judges “do not need to be notified when someone has completed his/her probation in the cases involving earned compliance credit,” the good-time probation deal Myer received. There are more than 200 civil and criminal district court judges in Louisiana.
Among the judges who previously agreed to the maneuver was the one who handled Myer’s sentencing but also signed a written order for a hearing with-in a year of Myer's plea agreement in January.
In such cases, the governor’s office said, local authorities are not notified.
The governor’s office spokesperson wrote directly: “The clerk’s office is NEVER notified that someone has completed his/her probation.”
The clerk was among the local officials who were confused by the situation.
Ardoin is a Republican and is running for Secretary of State after assuming the role following the resignation of the previously-elected elections chief earlier this year. Governor John Bel Edwards is a Democrat.
The governor’s response to Ardoin included none of the information Ardoin originally solicited.
Click HERE to read the governor's letter sent Tuesday.
The Secretary of State released the following statement related to the governor's letter:
"The governor's lengthy, sarcastic response is nothing more than an attempt to sidestep a potentially troubling issue and a failure to address any of our specific concerns. The fact is, we were never informed of this individual being convicted of a felony, period. That's a problem. The statute cited in the Governor's response isn't even in question. It's alarming that Governor has an issue with the legislative auditor looking into the Department of Corrections to see if there are any policies or procedures that can be improved upon. My job is to ensure votes are cast accurately and legally. If the governor has a problem with that, then we have bigger issues to deal with."
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