Senate votes to limit governor’s authority over emergency election plans

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

The Louisiana Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would eliminate the governor’s veto power over a proposed emergency election plan.

Under current law, once an emergency is declared, the secretary of state comes up with an election plan to deal with the emergency. The state House of Representatives and Senate governmental affairs committees, the full House and Senate, and the governor all must approve the plan or it dies.

Though the process was at times contentious, Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin was able to craft a plan for holding this year’s summer elections amid the COVID-19 pandemic that all parties were willing to approve. But in planning for the fall elections, Ardoin eliminated absentee ballot options for people with COVID-19-related health concerns included in the previous plan.

Ardoin made the change at the behest of Republicans in the legislature who are wary of voting by mail, saying they are concerned about potential fraud and the U.S. Postal Service’s ability to handle the extra volume. But Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards rejected the plan, calling it “woefully inadequate” for protecting the right to vote and public health.

That left the decision to a federal judge, who ultimately imposed a plan very similar to the one used during the summer.

Senate Bill 20 by Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a Slidell Republican who chairs the Senate’s governmental affairs committee, calls for an Emergency Election Commission that includes the secretary of state (as a non-voting member), the chairs of both governmental affairs committees, the House speaker, the Senate president, the governor, and the leaders of the Republican and Democratic delegations of both chambers. The commission would have the power to approve an emergency plan, which House and Senate majorities then would have to approve.

And in another crucial difference from the current system, the secretary of state would have the opportunity to present more than one plan to the commission. Ardoin has said he felt hamstrung by the current system, where he presents a single plan then has to start over from scratch if the plan is rejected at any level.

“We’re building a collaborative process,” Hewitt said.

Democrats argued against the change, saying it would usurp the governor’s authority as head of the executive branch.

“I don’t think that’s the way we should be moving if we want coequal branches of government,” said Sen. Ed Price, a Donaldsonville Democrat.

Senators voted 22-11 along party lines to send the bill to the House of Representatives.