Louisiana Senate committee advances election plan that governor plans to block

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

A Louisiana Senate committee on Thursday voted 5-3 to approve Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin’s emergency plan to manage this fall’s elections amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. John Bel Edwards has said he will block the plan’s implementation, which he calls “woefully inadequate” for protecting public health and the right to vote.

The emergency plan used for two elections this summer added additional options for being able to vote absentee by mail: being subject to a medically necessary quarantine, experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or awaiting a diagnosis, caring for someone who is quarantined, or having a chronic health condition that imparts a higher risk of serious COVID-19 complications. It also temporarily waived the usual requirement that first-time voters must vote in person.

Generally, absentee ballots in Louisiana are limited to people 65 or older, members of the military, overseas voters, people who are hospitalized and people who won’t be in their parish on Election Day. Ardoin’s plan for the fall elections would allow voters who test positive for COVID-19 during and after early voting but before Election Day to use the hospitalization exemption but adds no other emergency absentee ballot provisions.

However, Ardoin suggests voters with health concerns might be able to use the “disability” provision in current law, though they would need a note from their doctor that they qualify.

Ardoin said leaders of the legislature’s Republican majority indicated they would not support the summer plan again. He said he proposed a plan that he knew could get enough votes for approval, even though he knew Edwards, a Democrat, would not support the more limited plan.

Ardoin said he doesn’t have time to pull back the plan and create a new one and suggested there might still be room for negotiation between the legislature and the governor’s office. Without a plan in place, Louisiana will either operate with a court-imposed plan or without an emergency plan at all.

“I’m at an impasse,” Ardoin said. “I’ve got to go pragmatically where the votes are.”