Bill to expand mail-in voting pitched as way to prevent COVID-19 spread

If approved, could be in effect for November presidential election

La. lawmaker pitches bill to allow people to absentee vote in upcoming elections; democratic primary postponed

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A Louisiana lawmaker is pushing to expand mail-in voting ahead of the fall presidential election, now pitching the idea as a way to improve voter turnout and slow the spread of COVID-19, commonly known as coronavirus.

Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin and Governor John Bel Edwards postponed the April 4 democratic primary election until June 20 amid concerns about the new coronavirus’s spread.

Under current law, voters must explain why they will not be able to vote in person when they apply for an absentee ballot. The secretary of state can deny requests that do not demonstrate a state-approved need to vote absentee.

Generally, absentee ballots are approved for senior citizens, students, ministers, people who are hospitalized, and people who have moved. Find the current requirements here.

“If we are having an election and there’s an outbreak, you want people to stay home,” Rep. Mandie Landry, D-New Orleans, said. “You don’t want people to go to a germy poll location where everyone is touching the same machine and everyone is in the same place. Vote-by-mail would allow people to stay home."

Landry says her bill could be classified as emergency legislation, allowing it to be approved through an expedited legislative process. Even then, Ardoin says the state would not have enough time to implement any potential changes before the postponed spring elections.

“Anything is on the table,” he said. “[But] we would have to change our entire system within 60 days. I think it’s pretty impossible to do.”

“At minimum, we could have this by November, but it would be nice if we had it for the spring elections,” Landry said.

Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) officials say warmer summer months could slow the virus’s spread, but noted it’s possible the virus could return in the fall when voters return to cast ballots in the 2020 presidential election.

“It would help to halt the spread and allow people to still engage in the process,” Landry said. “We don’t want to be canceling elections or have 10% turnout because everyone is afraid of getting sick.”

Landry filed the bill as a way to expand voting access long before the coronavirus outbreak captured national attention, noting many Louisiana voters live in rural areas with fewer polling locations. She argues it would cut costs by reducing the normal financial strain that in-person voting places on the Secretary of State’s Office.

“This happened so quickly, I don’t think anyone could’ve predicted it,” Landry said. “But we should still have some safeguards in place."

The bill has yet to appear in committee, and its fate is uncertain.

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