BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana’s elections chief Monday proposed a scaled-back emergency plan for this fall’s elections that would modestly expand early voting amid the coronavirus outbreak, but still require most people to cast their ballots in person in the pandemic.
The proposal Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin sent to the governor and lawmakers recommends a much more limited adjustment in voting rules for the Nov. 3 presidential election and a Dec. 5 election than the emergency plan used for Louisiana’s summer elections.
It offers no expansions of absentee balloting for people with conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19 or people who are isolating because of virus exposure.
“A major expansion of our absentee ballot program in such a short time-frame would be nearly impossible, would exacerbate voter confusion and would further strain an already stressed election system in terms of human, physical and technical resources,” Ardoin, a Republican, wrote in the proposal.
The plan would increase Louisiana’s early voting period from seven days to 10 days and add an extra 1.5 hours of voting time to each day. But that would only apply to the Nov. 3 election — and that’s fewer than the 13 early voting days used in Louisiana’s summer elections.
Louisiana’s absentee balloting procedure is limited to people 65 or older, members of the military, overseas voters, people who are hospitalized and people who won’t be in their parish for the election.
Ardoin’s plan for the November and December elections would allow any voter testing positive for COVID-19 during and after early voting but before Election Day to use the hospitalization excuse to get an absentee ballot. No other changes are proposed to who can use the absentee process.
To address concerns about delays in mail processing through the U.S. Postal Service, Ardoin would allow parishes to set up curbside drop-off stations where people can hand their absentee ballots to someone in person rather than put them in the mail. But parish registrars of voters would decide whether to offer that option.
Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and a majority of the House and Senate must approve any emergency election plan before it can take effect for the Nov. 3 ballot that has the presidential race, competitions for U.S. Senate and U.S. House seats and an array of local elected positions or for the Dec. 5 runoff election.
Ardoin’s plan doesn’t go as far as Edwards or Democratic lawmakers want in offering more people the option to cast their ballots by mail. But Republicans, who make up a majority of the House and Senate, are resistant to widening Louisiana’s absentee balloting rules.
Ardoin said he crafted a plan he believed would “pull off a safe, fair and accurate election,” while also being able to win passage. The secretary of state said he believes he has enough GOP legislative backing for the emergency proposal, but isn’t sure about Edwards’ support.
“I didn’t want to present anything that’s dead on arrival on the legislative side, but I don’t know if it’s DOA with the governor,” Ardoin said. He added: “I negotiated the best deal that I could get that I could pass through the Legislature.”
The governor has said he wanted a proposal similar to the one that he and lawmakers approved for Louisiana’s July presidential primary and Saturday’s municipal election.
That emergency plan let people seek an absentee-by-mail ballot if they attested they were at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 because of certain medical conditions; were subject to a quarantine or isolation order; were advised by a health provider to self-quarantine; were experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking medical confirmation; or were caring for someone who is quarantined or isolated because of the disease.
Louisiana has one of the nation’s highest per capita rates of new coronavirus cases in the last two weeks and has seen nearly 4,400 people die from the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus.
Voting rights advocates have filed a federal lawsuit in Baton Rouge against Ardoin and Edwards, saying the state is doing too little to protect ballot access this fall and should widen mail-in voting options.