BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Tuesday that he will reject an emergency plan for the fall elections because it doesn’t expand mail-in balloting options for people quarantined because of the coronavirus pandemic or those at greater risk of serious harm from COVID-19.
The decision by the Democratic governor will block the plan offered by Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin for the Nov. 3 presidential election and a Dec. 5 state election. The proposal needs backing from both the majority-GOP Legislature and Edwards to take effect.
“I do not support his plan. I don’t believe that it accommodates all the voters that should be accommodated in this public health emergency,” Edwards said in his Tuesday coronavirus briefing. He added: “That plan will not be carried out for these elections.”
Unless Ardoin revises the plan and can win approval from both lawmakers and Edwards, it appears a federal lawsuit filed by voting rights advocates that seeks to widen mail-in voting options will decide what elections in Louisiana look like this fall.
The secretary of state’s office didn’t immediately respond Tuesday to questions about Ardoin’s next steps. The first legislative hearing on his emergency elections plan was scheduled for Wednesday.
Ardoin proposed a much more limited adjustment in voting rules for the fall elections than the emergency plan used for Louisiana’s summer elections. It would modestly expand early voting, but still require most people to cast their ballots in person in the pandemic.
The plan would increase Louisiana’s early voting period from seven days to 10 days and add an extra 1.5 hours of voting time to each day. But that would only apply to the Nov. 3 election — and that’s fewer than the 13 early voting days used in Louisiana’s summer elections.
Louisiana’s absentee balloting procedure is 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 for the election.
Ardoin’s plan for the November and December elections would allow any voter testing positive for the virus during and after early voting but before Election Day to use the hospitalization excuse to get an absentee ballot. No other changes are proposed to who can use the absentee process.
The secretary of state said he crafted a plan that he believes can win support from a majority of Republican lawmakers, who didn’t want to see mail-in-absentee voting significantly expanded for the Nov. 3 ballot that has the presidential race, competitions for U.S. Senate and U.S. House seats and an array of local elected positions —or for the Dec. 5 runoff election.
Edwards said he wanted a plan similar to the one that he and lawmakers approved for Louisiana’s July presidential primary and Saturday’s municipal election.
That emergency plan let people seek an absentee-by-mail ballot if they attested they were at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 because of certain medical conditions; were subject to a quarantine or isolation order; were advised by a health provider to self-quarantine; were experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking medical confirmation; or were caring for someone who is quarantined or isolated because of the disease.
“Today there’s more COVID in Louisiana than when we formulated the first plan,” Edwards said. “It just doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Louisiana has had one of the nation’s highest per capita rates of new coronavirus cases in the last two weeks and has seen 4,431 people die from the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus.