Louisiana Republicans kill emergency election plan; lawmakers have 9 days to compromise

Secretary of state warns without action, next elections could mirror Wisconsin’s presidential primary

La. officials grapple with how to handle elections amid coronavirus

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - State lawmakers have nine days to compromise on an emergency election plan, otherwise, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin says Louisiana’s elections could mirror the widely-criticized Wisconsin presidential primary where masked voters stood in tightly-packed lines for hours to cast their ballots.

A Senate panel on Wednesday, April 15 rejected Ardoin’s initial emergency proposal that would have extended early voting, relocated some polling places away from nursing homes, and relaxed absentee voting rules in order to minimize the spread of the new coronavirus at polling locations.

A provision that would have allowed voters to request a mail-in ballot if they were “unable to appear in public due to concern of exposure to or transmission of COVID-19” was the key sticking point. Governor John Bel Edwards pushed for the measure, Ardoin said.

“Anybody could say, ‘Hey, I’m scared to death,’ and they can absentee vote,” Sen. Barry Milligan, R-Shreveport, said. “It seems like we are opening ourselves to more risk and fraud than ever.”

The state’s Republican party opposed the plan, arguing that mail-in voting is more susceptible to fraud. The Senate committee voted along party lines to send Ardoin, a Republican, back to the drawing board.

At least 30 other states have unrestricted absentee voting, and analysis indicates voters there are more likely to be struck by lightning than successfully cast a fraudulent ballot. President Donald Trump has expressed similar concerns, despite requesting a mail-in ballot for himself in Florida earlier in April.

Ardoin noted Louisiana’s normal election code allows voters to request an absentee ballot if they plan to be away from their voting precinct on Election Day.

“We don’t run around checking on people if they’re in town,” he said. “I’m pretty certain people have broadly used this option for an absentee ballot.”

The proposed changes would apply only to Louisiana’s now twice-delayed spring elections. Gov. Edwards re-scheduled the presidential primary for July 11, and the municipal election for Aug. 15. The November presidential election would not be impacted by the proposed emergency rules.

The secretary of state estimated roughly 360,000 voters would have used the temporary mail-in provision during the presidential primary, compared to 60,000 in a “normal” election. The change would have delayed election results by as many as 14 days from Election Day, and cost an additional $4 million.

“Under our comprehensive plan, the election will have the options Louisianans know and trust, as well as the expansion of some features not currently employed on a widespread basis across the state,” Ardoin said, adding that he opposes universal mail-in voting, where the state mails ballots to voters whether they request them or not.

Ardoin says he needs lawmakers to approve an emergency plan before April 24, the latest date he can purchase new election equipment that may be required, including disinfectant.

“With elections, you don’t just flip a switch and turn them on and off,” he said. “There is so much preparation in advance that we have to work on. Any clog in the wheel with regard to those preparations causes us severe anxiety, but could also cause us serious issues with the election.”

The House and Senate’s governmental affairs committees must each approve the plan, which would then be voted on by lawmakers via mail-in ballot. The governor would have to sign off on the plan as well.

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