A recent state court decision has reinforced the original intent of how Louisiana funds elections, but a clarifying law would do better.
Last week, the state’s Third Circuit Court of Appeals overruled a district court decision that misread the Constitution and statute. In 2020, two special interest groups, the Center for Election Innovation and Research and the Center for Tech and Civic Life announced they would distribute hundreds of millions of dollars supposedly to defray election expenses in the face of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic. However, a closer inspection particularly of the latter, which in Louisiana planned to operate through another advocacy organization called the Center for Secure and Modern Elections and eventually would channel nearly $400 million nationwide to election administrators, reveals grant restrictions that often followed leftist elections policies.
The CSME involvement was notably suspicious. The group acts as a child of the major leftist dark money group New Venture Fund, and is related to another, the Sixteen Thirty Fund, that lobbied for automatic voter registration and, ironically given the group’s name, against ballot security measures. For the 2020 election cycle, the former raised nearly $1 billion, whose largest donor in the hundreds of millions has been the Gates Foundation founded by multi-billionaire Bill Gates and ex-wife, and the latter nearly $400 million, about half from just four billionaires. Its principals have served in a number of capacities for leftist politicians and organizations.
This deluge of private dollars from leftist groups impacted 2020 elections, and sometimes in destructive ways. It put a thumb on the scales of election outcomes with the attached strings causing jurisdictions to maximize use of methods that compromised ballot integrity, including mass mail balloting, ballot harvesting, ballot “curing,” and unsupervised dropbox use, favored by Democrats and leftists that increased turnout in favor of Democrats. And in at least one instance it triggered outright fraud.
But not in Louisiana, because when CSME solicited proposals that drew interest from 13 parishes, Republican Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry warned them off saying the law allowed election funding only through state appropriation when elections involved non-local candidates – most election cycles in the state feature state or national offices – and as a result Louisiana became the only state not to have a jurisdiction accept this money in that cycle. In essence, Landry’s intervention likely meant Louisiana had the highest degree of election integrity of any state in 2020, since the methods pushed by the grants have known security issues.
Landry followed up with a suit asking for an injunction against this activity, but 16th District Judge Republican Lewis Pitman refused to grant it, contending that the law didn’t prohibit “political subdivisions” from accepting such funds. The Third Circuit ruled on appeal that jurisprudence clearly defined registrars and clerks of court in Louisiana’s highly-centralized elections administration system as state offices because the Constitution and/or statute established them, making them subject to state appropriations laws. Thus, the case returns to Pitman for further consideration, with all signs pointing to granting the injunction given the appeals court’s instructions.
However, the matter would become moot if HB 811 by GOP state Rep. Blake Miguez becomes law. This would eliminate any ambiguity concerning letting local elections officials accepting grants of this nature by its prohibition, joining a growing chorus of states. It replicates a bill from last year that passed both chambers with near supermajority votes in each chamber, but vetoed by Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards and without an attempted override during last year’s veto session.
But political winds seem to have changed this year with last month’s successful override of an Edwards veto, making him much less likely an obstacle to enactment either by deferring or suffering a subsequent override. Outsourcing elections, allowing their shaping by private interests, recklessly endangers their integrity and democracy, and the Legislature should repeat its action of last year and go one step further if Edwards tries to stand athwart of good government.