BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana voters will have more early voting time and expanded mail-in balloting options in the July and August elections because of the coronavirus outbreak, under a plan approved by state lawmakers.
The emergency elections plan submitted by Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin won passage in a 31-8 Senate vote and a 62-39 House vote, according to results released Monday night.
“This is a great result for Louisiana’s voters and election workers, especially those most susceptible to the COVID-19 virus,” Ardoin, the state’s Republican elections chief, said in a statement. He added: “Our plan serves as a pragmatic and temporary response to the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging our nation.”
Lawmakers, who aren’t currently in session, voted by emailed and faxed ballots, with a mix of Democrats and Republicans backing it. Opposition came from some of Ardoin’s fellow Republicans who objected to the mail-in voting expansion.
Ardoin will use the plan to manage the July 11 presidential primary and an August 15 municipal election. He’ll be able to change precinct locations, relocate polling places, expand in-person early voting from seven days to 13 days and widen the availability of mail-in absentee ballots to people affected by the virus.
Growing fears about the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus twice prompted postponement of the Louisiana presidential primary that had been set for April 4 and a municipal election originally planned for May 9.
Louisiana’s existing absentee balloting procedure is limited to people who are 65 years old or older, members of the military, overseas voters, people who are hospitalized and people who won’t be in their parish for the election.
The emergency plan approved by lawmakers will let people seek an absentee-by-mail ballot for the July and August elections if they attest on an application that they are at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 because of certain medical conditions; are subject to a quarantine or isolation order; are advised by a health provider to self-quarantine; are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking medical confirmation; or are caring for someone who is quarantined or isolated because of the disease.
The plan was a second version. Republican senators blocked Ardoin’s first draft from passage, which proposed to allow anyone who had a “concern of exposure” to COVID-19 to request an absentee-by-mail ballot. The GOP senators said that would greatly increase the risk for fraudulent balloting.
Voting experts say the overall risk of fraud, either by mail-in voting or in-person voting, is extremely low across the country.
Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards supported the first proposal and backed the rewritten version as well, calling it reasonable.
Ardoin rewrote the emergency plan with Attorney General Jeff Landry, Senate President Page Cortez and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, all Republicans. Still, some GOP lawmakers balked at the redrafted version.
“I just voted NO on the Emergency Election Plan. Mail-in voting has a HUGE potential for fraud and could destroy the integrity of our elections,” Rep. Rick Edmonds, a Baton Rouge Republican, posted on Twitter after casting his ballot.
Even as they voted for the plan, some Democrats criticized it as offering too few mail-in voting options for people worried about contracting the virus.
Lying on a mail-in ballot application is a felony. Applicants must sign a statement acknowledging they could be jailed for up to 2 years and fined up to $2,000 if they lie on the form and are found guilty of making false statements. A witness will be required to sign the mail-in ballot request form.