Quite properly, Louisiana legislative committees yesterday rejected an unnecessary softening of the state’s ballot integrity as it pertained to postponed presidential preference, party governance, and local elections, an action which can lead to a far more elegant solution that seeks a problem.
Already pushed back from the beginning of April at the behest of Republican Sec. of State Kyle Ardoin and verified through a Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards proclamation due to the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, the two tag-teamed again to delay these again from Jun. 20 to Jul. 11, and any runoffs from Jul. 25 to Aug. 15. They pursued this despite increasing evidence of the pandemic’s subsidence, as yesterday the seven-day rolling average increase in cases came to just four percent.
However, this time the two went further than just wanting to change dates. They also jointly endorsed a plan to increase vastly the potential for mail-in balloting as well as increase from 7 to 13 days the amount of time available for early voting, also changing up a few early voting and polling places. Ardoin explained he had to set all of this in motion now because of logistical concerns such as ordering supplies, ensuring availability of adequate numbers of personnel, and possibly finding extra protective gear.
As part of the process, each chamber’s Governmental Affairs committee had to approve first of an Ardoin request to make an emergency elections declaration. After that, the committees would have to approve of this election plan of his, and then the chambers would have final approval. But the House and Governmental Affairs Committee approved only of the declaration, deferring without objection that plan, after the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee rejected both in a combined vote, with the five Republicans present in the majority against the lone Democrat present.
Republicans who spoke against the plan rightfully raised concerns about whether the hastily-proposed procedures would increase the chance of ballot fraud. Keep in mind that current law permits voting by mail under several narrow circumstances, or more generally being out of state, living in a nursing home for recuperative purposes, or having reached the age of 65 by the election, upon application to a registrar of voting. The plan would have dropped the age to 60, created a few other narrow exceptions related to the pandemic, but additionally would have let anybody who felt psychologically threatened by being in public to vote receive a mail ballot as well.
Thus, potentially the vast majority of the population would have qualified, making Louisiana more like Oregon which has entirely mail-in elections. But, unlike Oregon, Louisiana doesn’t have the infrastructure to handle this in a way that not only comparatively drastically minimizes fraud, but also wouldn’t face bottlenecks of requests going out or having votes come in by the deadline. For example, Oregon sends out ballots three weeks before an election; the plan envisioned sending these out as few as three days prior. Oregon also maintains a series of drop boxes for collection; the Ardoin plan didn’t.
Perhaps most crucially, in Oregon voters without identifying information must appear in person to register, but that’s not the case in Louisiana. That’s not a big deal when voting in person, as those who register by mail must vote the first time by appearance, but in this instance with such wide-open voting by mail, its purpose would be defeated by the encouragement not to vote in person, effectively disenfranchising those people.
Of course, there’s a larger question of any genuine need behind this. If having concern about the elderly voting because of the virus, that’s already taken care of under current law; lowering the age limit five years adds little protection. And why extend early voting, because it ends up as another way to defeat the purpose of the plan: if extending because people will want to avoid polling places meaning they’ll jam early voting sites, adding six extra days won’t guarantee sufficient social distance and so they’ll flock to voting by mail and pressure the system (the plan throughout vaguely hints about extra preparation and expenses to handle this, but provides no details).
So, not only by July 11 the crisis largely, if not totally, will have subsided to moot all of this, but also the plan is half-baked if not partially ineffective. With the former, why loosen standards that invite fraud for no payoff; with the latter, why induce chaos that increases the chances of fraud while missing part of the target audience anyway?
But, if you’re really concerned about robust voting for these elections, there’s a simple solution: postpone all of these until the regular fall election. It’s already on tap for Republican state central committee slots. Further, the postponements have made impossible Louisiana representation at the national political party conventions. And, already the postponements have interfered with new terms in office for some jurisdictions, so pushing it back further only would affect more (with perhaps a few officeholders who anticipated not returning because of unpopularity secretly liking these extensions of their terms). Best of all, it would save the state money with a budget crunch in the offing by combining elections, thus reducing costs.
The only loose end would be presidential preference primaries. A quick, temporary legislative fix would do the trick, repealing the special law that set this year’s election date and, in its place, empowering state central committees to meet as nominating conventions to send delegates to the major party national conventions.
Have the April/May elections in July and August if you wish under unaltered current law. Or, push them all the way back to November and December. But the worst option was what Edwards and Ardoin advocated, and legislators rightfully refused to permit that.