Proposed Louisiana legislation addresses redistricting, voting by mail and purging inactive voters

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

Two Louisiana nonprofits are touting a package of bills they say would promote “fair” districts and election integrity.

Fair Districts Louisiana and the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice say the five measures up for consideration in this year’s session would “increase confidence in the state’s election system and ensure that the best available tools and techniques are used to redraw Louisiana’s districts after the 2020 census.”

State Rep. Barry Ivey, a Central Republican, and New Orleans Democratic Rep. Aimee Adatto Freeman are co-sponsoring a measure that would create an 18-member redistricting commission to study best practices and make recommendations to the legislature. The legislation mandates gender, ethnic and political diversity among the commission’s members.

“Redistricting is a complex process, and the study and advisory commission will help ensure fairly drawn districts that represent the diverse constituency of Louisiana,” Freeman said.

Ivey also sponsors a measure calling for a website to disseminate information about redistricting and allow for public comment, in hopes of promoting transparency and public engagement in the process.

“The purpose of transparency is to bring about accountability, but that only happens when the public engages,” he said.

The other three bills are sponsored by Democrats. Freeman and Rep. Ted James of Baton Rouge want to end what they consider “prison gerrymandering” in Louisiana. The bill would count prisoners at their last known address rather than where they are incarcerated.

Critics of counting prisoners where they are held, who tend to be Democrats, say it distorts local and state representation and artificially inflates the political clout of areas that host prisons. Republicans are more likely to argue that “towns with prisons need federal money for the additional costs they bring, such as medical care, law enforcement and road maintenance,” as one report put it.

Rep. Mandie Landry of New Orleans has sponsored a measure that would allow every Louisiana resident to vote by mail and require the state to provide pre-paid postage on absentee ballots. She says it would help voters in rural areas who live far from early voting sites and service industry and shift workers whose schedules make voting in person difficult and would come in handy when there are public health concerns such as those related to COVID-19.

Legislation by Rep. Matthew Willard, D-New Orleans, would allow residents to be purged from the rolls of registered voters if they are inactive for four regularly scheduled federal general elections, rather than two such elections as under the current rules. Voters on the inactive list would not see their registrations cancelled within 120 days before an election in their jurisdiction.

The Louisiana Legislature’s 2020 regular session began Monday and must end by June 1.