LA House and Senate committees block COVID-19 declaration to expand mail-in ballots

Published: Apr. 15, 2020 at 1:51 PM CDT
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The Louisiana Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee and House and Governmental Affairs Committee have blocked an emergency plan to expand mail-in ballots and early voting for summer elections due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin proposed an emergency certification to expand mail-in ballots to those impacted or susceptible to the novel coronavirus for the July 11 presidential preference primary and the August 5 election.

The plan would also have expanded early voting from seven days to 13 days. GOP members of the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee voted to defer the declaration by a vote of 5-1. Central Louisiana Senators Mike Reese, District 30, and Glen Womack, District 32, voted against the measure. Later in the day, the House and Governmental Affairs Committee voted unanimously to do the same thing.

However, the House and Governmental Affairs Committee voted to declare an emergency. That will allow Ardoin to go back to the drawing board to come up with another plan before the April 24 deadline.

The attempt to expand absentee ballots was the issue that GOP lawmakers were concerned about. Some Republicans claim the move could increase voter fraud. Ardoin said the plan was a balanced plan to keep people safe.

Eligible absentee ballot voters would be those 60 years of age or older, those deemed high risk for getting COVID-19, those advised to self-quarantine, those experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, those who are caring for someone dealing with COVID-19 and those caring for a child who is at home after daycares and schools were closed.

"It is going to explode the number of absentee ballots," said Sen. Barry Milligan, Shreveport. "I'm concerned about the two-week process after the election to get the returns."

"I don't believe I'm proposing anything that would put our system at risk," said Ardoin, speaking to the committee. "We can all agree what we are living through today has never been thought of in our generation. I'm tasked constitutionally for every citizen to express their will through their vote."

Ardoin says the deadline to make changes to the July and August elections will be April 24. The committees voted to block the declaration, but they are asking Ardoin to go back to the drawing board.

"While recognizing that this is an emergency situation, I am concerned and we have asked that Secretary Ardoin modify his recommendation and to come back to our committee with a plan that will encourage Legal participation while upholding the integrity of our elections," said Rep. Mike Johnson, District 27, in a statement to KALB.

"This should not be confused with the universal vote by mail movement," said Ardoin. "This is temporary. Under my watch, this will never happen."

Currently, voters over the age of 65 or those out of town can use the mail-in ballot.

This comes after Ardoin and Gov. Edwards delayed the presidential preference primary and municipal election twice due to COVID-19. Some GOP senators were also concerned it is too early to make drastic changes to the elections for the summer. Ardoin also said once the declaration was made, it could not be reversed.

The declaration would have also increased mitigation efforts like social distancing and sanitation practices. Some polling places would also be relocated.

Ardoin said currently both elections would cost around $6 million out of the general fund but under the declaration, it is estimated to cost $10 million.

Ardoin will now testify to House members to discuss his current plan. This is a developing story. Stay tuned with KALB for the latest.

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