My vote doesn’t count. Why should I vote? What have they done for me? These familiar expressions of disinterest reflect the growing trend of voter apathy. Checo Yancy, Director for Voters Organized to Educate, touched on this growing trend and affirmed the importance of voting in the upcoming midterms, “Voting is important not only for Louisiana, but across the country, especially for people of color. I fought for my right to vote as a formerly incarcerated man. People were beaten and killed during the Selma to Montgomery March. And now people don’t even want to come out and vote,” he reflects.
The official site for Secretary of State R. Kyle Ardoin published data showing only 29% of registered Louisiana voters participated in the 2016 elections. In fact, a study conducted by Louisiana State University (LSU) shows a staggering decline in Louisiana voter participation by 30% since 1983. But there’s a very important issue on the ballot this upcoming election that answers why your vote counts and how it could affect you, a friend, or family member. Constitution Amendment #2 is fighting to overturn the non-unanimous jury rule that allows a jury to convict a defendant based on a 10-2 vote instead of the standard unanimous 12 vote count. Louisiana and Oregon are the only two states in the country that allows this practice.
An organization called Unanimous Jury is making sure all voters are aware of Constitution Amendment #2 and are getting out to vote on November 6th. Jennifer Harding, Regional Director for the Unanimous Coalition asserts, “This election will have real consequences and real effects on real families.” More than 40% of those recently exonerated in Louisiana were initially found guilty by a non-unanimous jury. Not only has it been found unfair in convictions, but “it disproportionately affects African Americans,” says Harding, “with African Americans accounting for only 32% of the population in Louisiana, but 62% are incarcerated.”
Yancy echoed the stated racial undertones of the amendment which has been in practice for nearly 100 years dating back to the Jim Crow era. The practice was implemented by white supremacist lawmakers in response to the fourteenth amendment granting blacks the right to vote and therefore serve on juries. The lawmaker’s rationale as clearly stated in the Official Journal of the Proceedings of the Constitutional Convention of the State of Louisiana of 1898 reads, to “perpetuate the supremacy of the Anglo-Saxon race in Louisiana.” It was a clear effort to disenfranchise blacks and nullify the votes of the few blacks allowed to serve on jury.
However, both Yancy and Harding remain optimistic about the outcome for Constitutional Amendment #2. Following the passing of Senate Bill 243 by Senator Jean Paul Morrell (D – New Orleans), there’s been an outpouring of bipartisan support and support within different rankings of law enforcement including a few sheriffs according to Yancy. Harding says, “it’s now seen as a dated practice and such an outlier in our country that people are ready for change.” The law will be enacted January 2019 if the vote passes.
Harding advises anyone interested in getting involved to sign up on their website: www.unanimousjury.org/volunteer. “Our biggest need is raising awareness. We are encouraging people to get involved and join us in making history!”
Your vote is your voice, make it count.