Courts likely to decide what La. fall elections will look like

Lawmakers at stalemate, leaving judge to decide mail-in and early voting questions
Updated: Aug. 19, 2020 at 4:41 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Action in the Louisiana House of Representatives Wednesday all but guarantees a federal judge will decide whether to extend special voting accommodations for the November and December elections.

A committee approved Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin’s emergency election plan, which Gov. John Bel Edwards has called ‘woefully inadequate’ and refuses to sign. The stalemate means a judge will institute an emergency plan, or Louisiana will hold the presidential election without certain safety precautions.

Ardoin’s fall plan rolls back the early voting and mail-in voting expansions made during the summer elections. The new early voting period would be ten days, three days shorter than in the summer. Absentee voting would only be expanded to people who test positive for the Coronavirus between the first day of early voting and election day.

“I would not have the votes if I presented the plan we had last time, which we developed under a stay-at-home order,” Ardoin explained. “We’re now in phase 2.”

Ardoin needs approval from the full House, Senate, and the Governor to institute the plan. He said the summer plan, which was a compromise, would’ve been “dead on arrival” in the republican-dominated legislature this go around.

But the Secretary of State and Governor could not reach an agreement, so Ardoin brought the republican-backed proposal anyway.

“Everybody has a right to vote, and not everybody is going to be able to exercise that right under the current plan as I’ve seen it,” Rep. Malinda White, D-Bogalusa, told Ardoin. “It’s a non-starter. If you were counting votes, you should’ve counted the vote at the end of the process.”

Ardoin testified that there is no time left for a compromise, leaving the fall elections up to the courts.

If a judge decides there is no need for emergency accommodations, Ardoin said election workers would back out, social distancing would be hard to maintain, and results would be delayed.

Ardoin says the plan is based on facts, research, and findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH), and statements made by the general counsel for the United States Postal Service (USPS).

Masks or face coverings are encouraged when casting a ballot. Those not wearing a mask will not be turned away. Disposable masks will be available to voters.

“In accordance with 89 JBE 2020, all election personnel of the secretary of state, clerks of court, registrars of voters, parish boards of election supervisors, early voting commissioners, parish board commissioners, Election Day commissioners, and poll watchers shall abide by the mandatory mask requirements and shall be required to adhere to all CDC and LDH guidelines for social distancing in performance of their duties or legal functions for which they may be allowed to participate in any portion of early voting or election processes and procedures including, but not limited to, ballot preparation and verification procedures, Election Day challenges, poll watching, vote tabulation, etc.”

Louisiana’s current 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.

There are provisions in place for hospitalized voters.

“Any voter testing positive for COVID-19 during and after early voting but before election day may request an absentee ballot utilizing the ‘hospitalization’ excuse under La. R.S. 18:1303(D)(1). These voters shall be subject to the same absentee application deadline as a hospitalized voter pursuant to La. R.S. 18:1307(D),” the plan states.

The emergency plan proposes that early voting for the Nov. 3 election expand from seven to ten days.

“The extended dates of early voting for the November 3, 2020 election will be Friday, October 16 through Tuesday, October 27, 2020 (excluding Sundays, October 18, 2020, and October 25, 2020). This provides voters three extra days and one and a half hours per day of additional early voting time,” says the plan.

To address concerns about delays in mail processing through the USPS, 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.

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