(WAFB) - Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, Attorney General Jeff Landry, and other government officials are again being challenged in court over the state’s plan for voting during the coronavirus pandemic.
The League of Women Voters of Louisiana (LWV), three Louisiana voters, and other organizations filed a federal lawsuit.
Critics of Louisiana’s emergency voting plan denounce the limited amount of excuses accepted to qualify for absentee voting, witness signature requirements for absentee ballots, and in-person voting requirements for first-time voters.
They write in the lawsuit that those rules “will force thousands of voters to risk exposure to COVID-19 by voting in person during 2020 elections.”
“This burden on the right to vote will fall more heavily on older voters, voters with disabilities, and Black voters, among others,” the lawsuit states.
“As a civil rights activist who is also a wife, mother, and grandmother, I care deeply about ensuring that my loved ones can cast a ballot without endangering their health,” said Telisa Clark, one voter who is suing. “Many members of my family, including myself, suffer from conditions that make COVID-19 very dangerous to our health. While my husband and I can vote by mail in July and August due to our health, my daughter and other household members will have to vote in person. And we all must vote in person in November. Denying us absentee ballots forces us to choose between our health and our vote, and no one should have to do that.”
The state’s presidential and municipal primaries were first moved in 2019, from March of 2020 to April of 2020 because of scheduling conflicts with Easter, and with other states’ primaries which is prohibited.
As those elections approached in 2020, the coronavirus pandemic hit the state.
Exposing Louisianans to COVID-19 at polling locations became a concern for government officials.
Elections were first pushed back to June, then to July as the state’s number of infected continued to necessitate bans on gatherings.
Secretary of State Ardoin presented lawmakers with the first draft of a voting plan which allowed some voters to participate in voting by mail based on their fear of catching the virus.
Republican lawmakers and Attorney General Jeff Landry rejected that plan. They cited concerns over voter fraud as the reason.
Ardoin submitted a revised plan. It significantly scaled back on the expansions that would have allowed a wider range of people to submit mail-in ballots.
Lawmakers passed that revised version of the plan.
Another federal lawsuit, jointly filed by the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, The NAACP, and four state residents, says the plan creates a situation where voters are “forced to choose between risking their lives and the lives of others or not exercising their right to vote at all."
This latest lawsuit from the LWV adds a new layer to existing complaints about the voting plan by claiming the government didn’t give voters enough time or notice to fix issues that may prevent voters from requesting or submitting mail-in ballots.
The lawsuit requests a federal judge to declare the voting plan unconstitutional and instruct state officials to expand the qualifications for absentee voting.
Details on the state’s current plan are included below:
The deadlines to request an absentee ballot for Louisiana’s presidential primary election on July 11 are:
July 7 (four days before the election) for all voters except military, overseas, and hospitalized voters
July 10 (day before the election) for military, overseas, and hospitalized voters
The deadlines to request an absentee ballot for Louisiana’s Municipal general elections on Aug. 15 are:
Aug. 11 (four days before the election) for all voters except military, overseas, and hospitalized voters
Aug. 14 (day before the election) for military, overseas, and hospitalized voters
Among the acceptable expanded reasons to request an absentee ballot are:
Voters who are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 due to serious underlying medical conditions as identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (including chronic lung disease, moderate to severe asthma, serious heart conditions, diabetes, severe obesity (BMI of 40 or higher), chronic kidney disease and undergoing dialysis, liver disease, pregnancy, or immunocompromised due to cancer treatment, smoking, bone marrow or organ transplantation, immune deficiencies, poorly controlled HIV or AIDS, and prolonged use of corticosteroids and other immune weakening medications)
Voters who are subject to a medically necessary quarantine or isolation order as a result of COVID-19
Voters who are advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns
Voters who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis
Voters who are caring for an identified individual who is subject to a medically necessary quarantine or isolation order as a result of COVID-19 or who has been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns
Early voting for the July 11 election is currently scheduled for June 26 through July 4 (excluding Sunday, June 28, and Friday, July 3).
Early voting for the Aug. 15 election is currently scheduled for Aug. 1 through 8 (excluding Sunday, Aug. 2).
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