SADOW: On Yesterday’s Mail-In Balloting Mistake At The Legislature

Yesterday, a pair of Louisiana Legislature committees debased the next two upcoming elections, and maybe more for decades to come, in the state for no good reason.

Last week, the same House and Governmental Affairs and Senate and Governmental Affairs Committees rightly rejected a proposal by Republican Sec. of State Kyle Ardoin, with Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards’ blessing, that would have expanded absentee voting by mail to make almost anybody eligible to partake of it, nearly doubled the time period for early voting, waived the requirement that registration by mail voters participate in person, and other technical changes that mostly would serve to reduce the chances of large congregations at polling places.

This plan had many faults. With such open-ended justifications not to vote in person, Louisiana would have resembled closely the all-mail elections of Oregon but without added ballot security that would discourage fraud. Particularly troublesome, the waiver of statute requiring in-person voting for mail-in registrants (including over the Internet) created a huge opening for the registration of individuals (whether they existed alive) whose identities could be manipulated by unscrupulous operatives in elections for decades to come.

But the flaws of the plan paled to the simple fact that no real emergency would exist almost three months and four months in the future. Using the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic as an excuse, even by then clearly the virus increasingly had come under control according to new infection and death rates. Only an attitude seized by unbridled and unwarranted fear could envision a late June where contagion possibilities were more than negligible. And that shortchanges the intelligence of voters would can be counted upon to decide how and whether to vote in a manner to minimize their chances of infection.

A week later, even less justification existed for divining an emergency some two months from now. As of yesterday, cases were increasing over a seven-day period at only a two percent average, and the absolute number of new cases over the previous 24 hours, 404, was much less than the previous seven-day average of almost 473. Increases in deaths’ rolling seven-day average also had fallen, to four percent.

That aside, Ardoin revised the plan with more input from policy-makers and improved it. He scaled back the reasons for voting by mail to more specific virus-related causes, as well as mandated that any new registrants not in person could vote not in person only for the two elections – now scheduled for Jul. 11 and Aug. 15 – subject to the order.

Those switches improved matters somewhat, but specifically these two elections remain much more exposed to fraud. The alterations still leave ample room to vote by mail for those willing to stretch the truth, and allow for fake registrants. And even if the elections in question carry relatively low stakes – party state central committee (excluding Republicans) and parish executive committee slots, a smattering of judicial elections, a few ballot propositions, and a number of municipal contests with the most high-profile being Monroe’s – fraud at any level for any matter indelibly stains American democracy, especially when invited for so little valid reason.

Stupidly, the committees went along with the new, unneeded plan. Particularly disappointing, all Republicans present on the Senate side voted for it, and in the House version enough of them voted with Democrats to pass it. Historically, GOP partisans have been more vigilant in shutting the door to fraud, with Democrats more than willing to relax standards despite (or, as some argue, because) of the possibility of fraud. In all likelihood, these outcomes mean both chambers will pass the measures as required for their implementation.

And even if the fraud window of opportunity remains open only for this pair of elections, operatives will seek to leverage this window well into the future. MacAoidh has written about the political aspects of plan approval that will make more difficult resistance to forces weakening protections in the future, but consider something as simple as keeping mail-in registrants who voted this time on the rolls without ever having to make an in-person appearance. As sure as the sun rises in the east, during the next possible session where such a matter can come up look for Democrats to sponsor a bill gerrymandering those registrants into the system without needing a future appearance. In anticipation of that possibly succeeding, watch registration by mail figures zoom way upwards well beyond historical norms in the coming weeks, with Democrats and black no party registrants disproportionately part of that.

Now that they have opened the door to future shenanigans, Republicans for years to come will have to take responsibility for this mistake by shutting off any attempts to make normal anything in this order that they so unwisely let slip by.

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