NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - As the coronavirus pandemic persists voting rights advocates say expanding voting by mail is critically needed but Louisiana’s top elections official Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin says he has not made a decision yet about pushing for an expansion of mail-in voting as it relates to the November presidential election.
“I have yet to certify what I believe could be an emergency for the November and December election cycle. It requires me to act before the legislature or the governor can act on that issue,” said Ardoin.
Still, Charlie Stephens, Director of the Louisiana Vote-by-Mail Initiative which he says includes a number of groups said voting options should be expanded especially during a pandemic that has hit the state of Louisiana hard.
“What a lot of our critics like to paint it as is like, oh you have to vote by mail. It’s just giving everyone the option to do that,” said Stephens.
In Louisiana voters must have a reason to be eligible to vote by mail. Some of the specific reasons include being in the military, being overseas, being 65 or older, being away at college or if someone is temporarily outside of the state during the early voting period or on election day.
Still for the upcoming August 15 election there is an emergency plan allowing people with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of contracting the virus or becoming severely ill from to apply for mail-in or absentee ballots. That was also the case for Louisiana’s July election.
“For August 15, we put forth an emergency plan to the legislature and the governor and it was passed by the legislature by a bipartisan majority as well as support from the governor that allowed for COVID19 absentee application that had five additional reasons outside of the 11 current law reasons to request an absentee ballot,” said Ardoin.
Still Ardoin says there has not been a large number of takers so far, in terms of, the coronavirus application.
“Unfortunately, only a little over 1800 voters used the COVID19 application whereas we had a significant number of individuals 65 and older utilize the current law program to the tune of about 92 percent of all absentee applications were the 65 and older population,” he said.
Stephens said people should not need a special reason to have access to mail-in ballots.
“We just really think it’s necessary in a time of a pandemic to have as many options to enfranchise as many people as possible,” said Stephens. “Our infection rates are higher than they were when he first proposed an emergency election plan, the virus is more widespread.”
While President Donald Trump signaled in a tweet his support for voting by mail in Florida, he slammed the idea in a recent interview with Axios.
“There is no way you can go through a mail-in vote without massive cheating,” Trump told the Axios reporter.
Stephens said everyone should have the same access to voting options.
“Hey, so it’s concerns that we hear all the time and quite frankly if it’s good enough for them I don’t know why it’s not good enough for everyone else, so the president votes by mail, his senior advisers vote by mail,” Stephens said.
He also pointed to those in Louisiana who already have the option to vote through absentee ballots.
“Louisiana already allows people over 65 to vote by mail. They allow college students to vote by mail, if you’re going on a trip you can vote by mail. If it’s good enough for all of these reasons and no, I haven’t seen anyone say that we shouldn’t allow our seniors to vote by mail. If it’s good enough for them I’m not sure why it’s not good for everyone else. We trust it for our military service members,” Stephens stated.
Ardoin was asked if he is concerned that mail-in balloting would result in widespread fraud.
“I’m not as worried about fraud in the election as I worried about a third-party that I can’t control which is the United States Postal Service,” said Ardoin. “I will note that I have serious concerns about the ability of the postal service to meet the needs of a November election given that there were problems this last July election that we experienced, so I am looking at those experiences, additionally I’m looking at us being in Phase 2; the last plan was drafted when we were at the stay-at-home stage.”
And Ardoin said he expects to make a decision soon on possibly expanding voting options for the fall, so that the legislature could act on it.
“So, I think I probably need to act within the next week to 10 days at the latest to certify the emergency and put forth a draft of a plan to them for their consideration,” Ardoin said.
However, he is confident in Louisiana’s ability to put on safe in-person elections.
“We’re very confident in us being able to have a safe environment, we just ask voters to do the same by wearing masks. We can’t mandate it, but we certainly can encourage it and we do for their safety and for the safety of the poll workers,” added Ardoin.
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