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Louisiana’s clash over mail-in ballots reaches federal court

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BATON ROUGE, La. (WVLA/WGMB) — A federal judge will hear more arguments Wednesday on whether Louisiana should further expand mail-in voting this fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

At issue is the emergency election plan Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin proposed in August. It would widen the current absentee voting pool to include those who have tested positive for the virus between the early voting window and Election Day. Voting rights activists, backed by Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, argue the secretary’s proposal doesn’t go far enough.

“We are owed the pathways to out vote, regardless of partisan politics,” Ashley Shelton, executive director of the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, said Tuesday. “We’re just trying to create as many pathways as possible.”

Louisiana is among the few states requiring legislative support for any emergency election changes. Ardoin, a Republican, has argued that his proposal marked the state’s best chance to win over its Republican-led House and Senate.

“It’s what has to be done,” Ardoin told state lawmakers at a House committee meeting in August. “To have a plan, this is what needs to be done.

Ardoin’s GOP support became moot when Edwards vetoed the plan. The governor noted it wouldn’t provide mail-in ballots to those in quarantine, those with pre-existing conditions, or those with COVID-19 symptoms who haven’t been tested (or haven’t gotten test results).

It’s unclear when federal court Judge Shelly Dick will issue her ruling, though timelines are tightening. Election Day is Nov. 3, with early voting weeks before that.

“We can’t be fighting this in October,” political pollster John Couvillon said. “We have to be deciding this now so that the appropriate registrars of voters can get directions as to how they’re going to handle mail-in voting.”

Ardoin has suggested expanding the seven-day early voting window to 10 days, in a push to lower crowd sizes. He is also calling for poll workers to wear masks, with extras available to the public. The future of these ideas remain unclear.

Absentee voting will remain an option for those able to vote by mail before the COVID-19 pandemic: people 65 or older, military servicemembers, hospital patients, and voters not in their home parish on Election Day.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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