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NAACP and others file lawsuit against Louisiana's emergency election plan

1 year 5 months 1 week ago Friday, May 08 2020 May 8, 2020 May 08, 2020 3:54 AM May 08, 2020 in News
Source: The Advocate

BATON ROUGE — The NACCP, Power Coalition for Equity and Justice and four individual voters are filing a federal lawsuit in response to Louisiana’s emergency election plan, which they say places unfair limitations on the expansion of mail-in voting. 

According to The Advocate the lawsuit, which calls the plan “unduly restrictive,” is aimed at removing the requirements that force voters to present an excuse to receive an absentee ballot, and instead, expand mail-in voting opportunities to all voters.

“Risking your health, and the health of your family, should not be a requirement to partake in the electoral process,” Catherine Meza, senior counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said in a statement. “We are hoping this lawsuit not only increases access to absentee voting but also makes in-person voting safer, so that Louisianans can exercise their constitutional right without putting their lives at risk.”

The lawsuit also asks for other rules on absentee ballots to be suspended and for early voting to be expanded, among other things, all while the coronavirus pandemic is ongoing in Louisiana. The lawsuit argues the election plan would particularly impact black voters, because the virus has taken a disproportionate toll on minorities.

The plan crafted by Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin last month for the delayed July and August elections originally featured several reasons voters could use to obtain a mail-in ballot and avoid voting in person, including a fear of transmitting or catching the virus.

But Republican lawmakers, aided by Attorney General Jeff Landry, fought back against the expansion, echoing claims by President Donald Trump that such an expansion would invite fraud. Election experts and studies have repeatedly found voter fraud is extremely rare.

Governor John Bel Edwards supported the plan, which passed both chambers of the Legislature in late April.

They revised the plan to include only the following reasons for getting a mail-in ballot: those at higher risk because of serious medical conditions, those subject to a “medically necessary quarantine or isolation order,” those advised by a health provider to self-quarantine, those experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis, or those caring for someone who is subject to a quarantine order and has been advised to self-quarantine.

One of the plaintiffs, Jasmine Pogue, suffers from asthma and a history of upper respiratory infections, according to the suit, but while she fears she could die if catching the virus, she would not qualify for an absentee ballot under the plan passed by lawmakers.

“Ms. Pogue’s only option to vote requires risking virus exposure – and perhaps her life – at an in-person voting site,” the suit states.

The lawsuit argues requiring any excuse to get an absentee ballot is unconstitutional and violates the Voting Rights Act.

Ardoin's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday evening. The lawsuit names the governor, secretary of state and the registrars of voters for East Baton Rouge and Orleans parishes.

Edwards spokeswoman Christina Stephens said the governor hasn't reviewed the suit, but said the governor supported the original plan, which featured more reasons voters could get absentee ballots. The lawsuit, which is filed in the federal Middle District of Louisiana court, argues requiring any excuses to get an absentee ballot is unconstitutional and violates the Voting Rights Act. 

Republicans wary of an expansion of mail-in ballots worked with Landry’s office to craft a plan that they hope will survive a lawsuit. A similar lawsuit is playing out in Texas over that state’s refusal to expand mail-in ballots.

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