(The Center Square) – Louisiana’s governor said Tuesday he will not approve the emergency plan the secretary of state created for holding this fall’s elections amid COVID-19, which could leave a court to decide how the election will be handled.
Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, the state’s top election official, on Monday released a plan that includes fewer options for residents to vote by mail than had been used in two elections this summer.
Edwards said the plan does not provide exemptions from the need to vote in person for residents who are at high risk of serious COVID-19 complications, for people who are caring for others who are at high risk, or for people who have been asked to quarantine because they came in close contact with a COVID-19 patient, he said.
“I think it is woefully inadequate to the task,” Edwards said. “That plan will not be carried out for these elections, and any resolution if we are going to have an emergency plan will likely have to come from the courts.”
Edwards said he would have preferred the “more robust” plan used for this summer’s two elections. That plan added exemptions for being subject to a medically necessary quarantine, experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or awaiting a diagnosis, caring for someone who is quarantined, or having a chronic health condition that imparts a higher risk of serious COVID-19 complications. It also temporarily waived the usual requirement that first-time voters must vote in person.
Ardoin needs approval of a majority of legislators in both the state House of Representatives and the Senate along with the governor to move forward with the plan. He told The Center Square that many conservatives in the Republican-dominated legislature made clear to him that they would not support the same plan they approved last time.
Legislative committees are scheduled to review the plan this week. Edwards said he hoped Ardoin would pull the plan and create a new one, but since that hasn’t happened yet even though the governor privately had expressed his opposition, he assumes it won’t happen.
Ardoin said the previous plan was contemplated when Louisiana was under a tighter set of restrictions to control the pandemic than are in place now, and those restrictions could be loosened further by Election Day in November. He said the U.S. Postal Service struggled with the volume of mail-in ballots used during this summer’s elections and said Louisiana should not rely too much on the mail for higher-turnout elections this fall.
Ardoin also said that he was more confident about the safety of in-person voting than he had been when crafting the plan used this summer. A federal report on Milwaukee’s April 7 election indicates physical distancing, personal prevention practices such as wearing masks, environmental cleaning and disinfection lowered COVID-19 transmission risk, according to the introduction to Ardoin’s plan.
Generally, absentee ballots in Louisiana are 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 on Election Day. Ardoin’s plan for the fall elections would allow voters who test positive for COVID-19 during and after early voting but before Election Day to use the hospitalization exemption but adds no other emergency absentee ballot provisions.
During the election held July 11, 19 percent of Louisiana voters who participated voted absentee by mail. Most did not use any of the temporary reasons called for in the last emergency plan; instead, the vast majority were people age 65 and older who always are allowed to vote absentee, Ardoin said.
The plan would increase Louisiana’s early voting period for the Nov. 3 election from seven days to 10 days, up from the standard seven days but down from the 13 days allowed for the summer elections.
Registrars of voters would be allowed to offer curbside drop off of absentee ballots after early voting ends, which could alleviate some of the stress on the Postal Service. Voters dropping off ballots would be expected to show identification. Those leaving someone else’s ballot would be required to fill out an “Absentee-By-Mail Ballot Hand Delivery Certification Statement.”
In-person voters will be encouraged to wear masks but will not be turned away if they do not. Disposable masks will be provided, according to the plan.