Once again, Louisiana tempts fate with unserious absentee ballot rules that could produce election results determined by fraud, but the good news is some minor housekeeping by the Legislature can increase the integrity of state elections.
This week, the Legislature chambers’ respective governmental affairs committees will vet emergency – which given its increasing seeming permanence brings Louisiana closer to emulating the old joke that it is the northern-most banana republic – rules regarding a series of upcoming elections, including for a state House seat in February, a Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and almost certainly two U.S. House spots along with municipal elections in March, and any runoffs for that in April. This set echoes the flawed batch under which the state conducted the last three such pollings, as imposed by an activist judge.
These standards differ from the previous version only in that they don’t extend the early voting period, but do share the same legalistic faults – most notoriously, allowing unverified new registrant names to stay on the voting rolls that makes it easy for fictitious voters to cast fictitious votes. Additionally, rather than create a new kind of problem, the rules also, by perpetuating essentially excuse-free absentee voting by mail, stretch a larger loophole through which to drive fraudulent votes.
Despite these assaults on election integrity, the two committees, including their majority Republican members, are expected to approve the plan submitted by GOP Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin. However, the Legislature can act to mitigate this problem for the future with simple clarifications, as illuminated in Wisconsin elections litigation last year.
Wisconsin law properly values the integrity of elections by ranking its kinds of balloting on the basis of security. Absentee ballot through mail have much more demanding standards to be deemed valid for the sensible reason that these experience a far less secure chain of custody.
Nothing in Louisiana law buttresses that tenet, nor does the Constitution equate in-person voting with other forms. Fall elections in Wisconsin had chain of custody problems, such as third parties not the Postal Service or commercial carriers delivering batches of mail votes, and registrar employees filling in missing information on ballots. Louisiana law should do more to make clear such practices won’t validate a vote.
While the law says that any hand delivery to a registrar must include information and attestation by the deliverer, and that only family members as defined by law of voters may deliver more than one, the law should provide for an automatic challenge to all such ballots received. This would add little burden to parish election boards but weed out obviously suspect harvested ballots.
Another change would take away board discretion in absentee ballots that don’t have perfectly correct information or followed instructions. Absentee ballots imperfect in any way (except for inadvertent marks straying outside of the bubbles that indicate a vote choice) should not count as valid votes (although greater latitude still would exist for the few allowed instances of facsimile transmission). As these ballots have extremely easy instructions to follow, only the most careless valid voter voting validly would have his vote invalidated, but this change would disproportionately weed out the sloppiness inherent to illegally harvested votes.
Hopefully, the additional fraud opportunities available in these upcoming elections won’t turn any election. Concerning those that come after, the Legislature should pass these reforms into law, and surely if Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards truly believes in election integrity, he won’t stand in the way of this.