LAWSUIT: Expand mail-in voting; make in-person voting ‘safer’ in La. during pandemic

LAWSUIT: Expand mail-in voting; make in-person voting ‘safer’ in La. during pandemic
A federal lawsuit jointly filed by the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, The NAACP, and four state residents, says the current election plan poses “undue burdens on the right to vote." (Source: WALB)

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Preparing for 2020 elections in Louisiana has proven to be everything except smooth sailing.

The latest pushback comes from advocacy groups that argue the current election plan ”violates the fundamental right to vote as protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments."

The state’s presidential and municipal primaries were first moved in 2019, from March of 2020 to April of 2020 because of scheduling conflicts with Easter, and with other states’ primaries which is prohibited.

As those elections approached in 2020, the coronavirus pandemic hit the state.

Exposing Louisianans to COVID-19 at polling locations became a chief concern for government officials.

Elections were first pushed back to June, then to July as the state’s number of infected continued to necessitate bans on gatherings.

Once the scheduling was pushed back to the summer, Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin began the next battle.

Ardoin sparred with lawmakers and Attorney General Jeff Landry to pass an emergency election proposal that outlines how Louisiana’s elections are to be administered.

He succeeded on his second try, after revising the original proposal to scale back on some expansions that would have allowed a wider range of people to submit mail-in ballots.

A federal lawsuit jointly filed by the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, The NAACP, and four state residents, says the current election plan poses “undue burdens on the right to vote."

Those burdens include voters being “forced to choose between risking their lives and the lives of others or not exercising their right to vote at all,” the lawsuit states.

As examples, the lawsuit states the current election plan places a burden on minorities, essential workers, people who live with the elderly, people who have underlying health conditions, and other vulnerable populations that experience worse health outcomes after COVID-19 infection, according to healthcare officials.

The lawsuit specifically notes the ways COVID-19 has disproportionately affected African Americans across the country, including in Louisiana.

“In Louisiana and dozens of other states across the country, we are seeing a stark racial disparity in COVID-19 infections and deaths,” said Zachery Morris, with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “Essential workers are more likely to be Black and people of color, resulting in higher exposure levels. This reality, combined with differences in healthcare access, underlying conditions, and other disparities that result from longstanding and persistent discrimination, have created a worst possible scenario for communities of color. The State’s restrictions on absentee ballots will effectively prevent thousands of voters from being able to participate in these upcoming elections or force them to risk their lives to do so.”

The lawsuit also slams the plan for what the attorneys consider overly vague language about who should and should not be participating in in-person voting.

“Risking your health, and the health of your family, should not be a requirement to partake in the electoral process,” said Catherine Meza, senior counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “We are hoping this lawsuit not only increases access to absentee voting but also makes in-person voting safer, so that Louisianans can exercise their constitutional right without putting their lives at risk.”

Details on the state’s current plan are included below:

ABSENTEE BALLOTS

The deadlines to request an absentee ballot for Louisiana’s presidential primary election on July 11 are:

  • July 7 (four days before the election) for all voters except military, overseas, and hospitalized voters
  • July 10 (day before the election) for military, overseas, and hospitalized voters

The deadlines to request an absentee ballot for Louisiana’s Municipal general elections on Aug. 15 are:

  • Aug. 11 (four days before the election) for all voters except military, overseas, and hospitalized voters
  • Aug. 14 (day before the election) for military, overseas, and hospitalized voters

Among the acceptable expanded reasons to request an absentee ballot are:

  • Voters who are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 due to serious underlying medical conditions as identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (including chronic lung disease, moderate to severe asthma, serious heart conditions, diabetes, severe obesity (BMI of 40 or higher), chronic kidney disease and undergoing dialysis, liver disease, pregnancy, or immunocompromised due to cancer treatment, smoking, bone marrow or organ transplantation, immune deficiencies, poorly controlled HIV or AIDS, and prolonged use of corticosteroids and other immune weakening medications)
  • Voters who are subject to a medically necessary quarantine or isolation order as a result of COVID-19
  • Voters who are advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns
  • Voters who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis
  • Voters who are caring for an identified individual who is subject to a medically necessary quarantine or isolation order as a result of COVID-19 or who has been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns

EARLY VOTING

  • Early voting for the July 11 election is currently scheduled for June 26 through July 4 (excluding Sunday, June 28 and Friday, July 3).
  • Early voting for the Aug. 15 election is currently scheduled for Aug. 1 through 8 (excluding Sunday, Aug. 2).

Click here to read the full plan, which includes information about which polling places are moving, how those in nursing homes should vote, and what qualifications are necessary for absentee voting under the new changes.

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