For months, the Covid pandemic has forced the people of Louisiana to stand in spaced-out lines at Walmart, grocery stores, drug stores, and restaurants. We have dealt with the inconveniences of social distancing and masks because we needed to take care of these important necessities for our families.
Another essential aspect of being an active citizen in our state is taking advantage of the right to vote. If we can safely stand in line to shop at Walmart, we can safely stand in line to vote. In fact, voting will surely be safer than shopping.
Polling places will be equipped with plenty of hand sanitizers and precinct workers will make sure to enforce mask and social distancing requirements. Thus, there is no reason why special accommodations must be made for enhanced mail-in voting in the upcoming election.
The issue of mail-in voting has sparked spirited debate not just in Louisiana, but across the country. While five states, Colorado, Utah, Washington, Oregon, and Hawaii, currently send all registered voters election ballots in the mail, many other states are looking to move in that direction this year due to the Covid pandemic.
Leading Democrats are pushing for an expansion of mail-in voting because of their concerns about the spread of Covid. Many Republicans contend that Democrats only want voting by mail because it benefits their party. Regardless of the underlying reason, Democrats are trying to include additional funding in the next Covid relief package for the United States Postal Service (USPS) to handle increased volume due to expanded mail-in voting.
This effort has been opposed by Republicans. In fact, President Donald Trump and Republican leaders have stressed that mailing to all voters will lead to potential delays, fraud, and lost ballots. Earlier this month, in a press briefing, the President emphatically stated that “Mail ballots are very dangerous for this country because of cheaters. They go collect them. They are fraudulent in many cases.”
Democrats dispute that there is evidence to support “many cases” of mail-in voting fraud. They claim the process works very well and is needed with so many Americans concerned about the Covid pandemic. Like so many other controversial issues, there is no consensus among our political leaders about mail-in voting.
This debate is now directly impacting Louisiana as we approach the November election. In earlier elections this year, due to Covid concerns, Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin provided for additional methods for voters to cast absentee ballots by mail. However, such provisions have been curtailed for the November election.
These changes do not meet the approval of Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards. According to Edwards, “I do not believe the Secretary of State’s current plan goes far enough, because it does not take into account the seriousness of this global pandemic and the health and safety of the voters. Simply put: voting should not be a super spreader event.”
On August 18, via executive order, Edwards declared an “emergency” for the upcoming November 3rd election. In the order, the Governor emphasized that “From our poll workers to our voters, people must have the confidence that they can safely vote. We need to find a solution that works for the public health of our people and also for the health of our democracy.”
The current law in Louisiana allows senior citizens, military personnel deployed out of state and hospitalized voters to request absentee ballots. For the November election, Ardoin wants to expand the eligibility for absentee ballots to those who can prove they have contracted Covid. These voters would be allowed to vote absentee if they provide identification to their local registrar.
To assist the USPS, the Secretary of State proposes that local officials install additional boxes for voters to place mail-in ballots. In Ardoin’s view, these changes are sufficient, and any further expansion of absentee voting would “strain an already stressed election system in terms of human, physical, and technical resources.”
During the summer elections, Ardoin permitted a much more expansive absentee ballot program. It allowed for any person in quarantine, suffering with underlying conditions or exhibiting Covid symptoms to request an absentee ballot.
With the expansion of absentee ballots in the summer, there were additional problems. In July, 5,000 absentee ballot requests were not delivered by the USPS in Orleans Parish due to insufficient postage. Ardoin said that the delays occurred even though “some of them were postmarked two weeks before they were delivered.”
The Secretary of State is a staunch supporter of voting on Election Day. He believes that “voting in person, with poll workers available to answer questions—and without entrusting a third party to see that the ballot is properly delivered—is the safest and most efficient way to ensure the ballots are counted.”
Thus, the Louisiana battle between the Republican Secretary of State and the Democrat Governor mirrors the national controversy. Like so many other political squabbles, it might be decided in federal court. The Secretary of State’s plan is the subject of a lawsuit filed by a coalition of groups including the NAACP and the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice. It is currently pending in federal court in Baton Rouge. If the court does rule, Ardoin hopes that “any ruling would include the critical mechanisms our office needs to administer the election.”
Along with the federal lawsuits and the Governor’s emergency declaration, the Secretary of State’s election plan was the subject of a hearing yesterday before the House Governmental Affairs committee. After five hours of debate, the committee voted 8-6 to approve Ardoin’s plan.
It is likely to receive full legislative approval but will face opposition from the Governor. Eventually, a federal judge will make the final decision. Clearly, this is a hotly contested issue, but the eventual outcome may not be known until we are much closer to Election Day.
Jeff Crouere is a native New Orleanian and his award winning program, “Ringside Politics,” airs locally at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and at 10:00 p.m. Sundays on PBS affiliate WLAE-TV, Channel 32, and from 7-11 a.m. weekdays on WGSO 990-AM & www.Wgso.com. He is a political columnist, the author of America’s Last Chance and provides regular commentaries on the Jeff Crouere YouTube channel and on www.JeffCrouere.com. For more information, email him at [email protected]