(The Center Square) – Louisiana legislative committees unanimously approved a plan Tuesday meant to ensure this spring’s elections will be held as safely as possible despite the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The plan would broaden mail-in voting options for this spring’s elections. The full Louisiana Legislature and Gov. John Bel Edwards still must approve the plan before Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin can implement it. Ardoin would have to go back to the drawing board if his recommendations are rejected.
Edwards says he will approve the plan.
“The courts have spoken, and any plan less than this probably has no chance of surviving,” Ardoin said.
Louisiana residents who are at least 65 years old, members of the military, overseas voters, people who are hospitalized and people who say they won’t be in their parish on Election Day generally are allowed to vote by mail.
The proposed emergency rules would allow people to use a mail-in ballot if they have a medical condition that puts them at a higher risk of serious complications from COVID-19, are subject to an isolation order or are caring for someone who is, are advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a diagnosis.
The plan is much the same as one lawmakers approved for last summer’s elections, except it doesn’t expand the number days when in-person early voting is available. Republicans refused to expand mail-in voting for the fall elections, citing concerns about fraud and whether the U.S. Postal Service could handle the volume, only to have a judge order state officials to offer the broader list of options.
In contrast to the marathon debates held last year, there was little controversy Tuesday. Officials said there was no evidence of widespread mail-in ballot fraud and the COVID-19-specific options were utilized by a sliver of the electorate.
“With all the teeth-gnashing we did over the COVID ballot, relatively few people took advantage of it,” said Sen. Sharon Hewitt, the Slidell Republican who chairs the relevant Senate committee.
Most Louisianans who voted by mail did so under the longstanding rules for older voters. Rep. Daryl Deshotel, R-Marksville, however, said many of those voters likely were motivated by COVID-19 concerns even if they didn’t request a “COVID ballot,” suggesting the full “COVID effect” might have been larger than it appeared.
The emergency rules would cover a February special election for a vacant state House seat and local elections to be held in March and April. Louisiana also has two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives to fill because Congressman-elect Luke Letlow died from COVID-19 complications and U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond is leaving Congress to join President-elect Joe Biden’s administration.
David Jacobs, Staff Reporter for the Center Square, is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.