GOP lawmakers, Edwards clashing over Louisiana election plan
BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana lawmakers Wednesday plowed ahead with a contested emergency plan to run the state’s fall elections during the pandemic, setting up a looming clash with Gov. John Bel Edwards who intends to jettison the plan if it reaches his desk.
Republicans on the House and Governmental Affairs Committee voted in a near-bloc to advance the emergency plan offered by GOP Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin to the full House for consideration. It eliminates most of the coronavirus-related reasons for a person to request an absentee ballot, requiring most people to vote in person despite the virus outbreak unless they have recently tested positive for COVID-19.
“We all want voter integrity, and I think this plan is the best way to do it,” said Rep. Valarie Hodges, a Denham Springs Republican, in a five-hour hearing that ended with an 8-6 vote.
Still, the rules have little chance of being used for the Nov. 3 presidential election or a Dec. 5 state election because Edwards, a Democrat, intends to block it. An emergency elections plan requires approval from the governor, House and Senate to take effect.
The impasse likely will leave a federal judge to determine how Louisiana runs its fall elections, because of a pending lawsuit filed by voting rights advocates that seeks to widen mail-in voting options.
“Passing this plan today virtually guarantees that we’re handing over our responsibility to the courts,” said Rep. Barry Ivey, the only Republican on the committee to vote against the proposal.
Edwards opposes Ardoin’s plan because it doesn’t expand absentee-by-mail balloting for those who are in quarantine because of exposure to the coronavirus or those at particular risk to adverse consequences from it.
“The secretary of state’s plan will not be implemented because both I and the Legislature have to approve it ... I will not,” Edwards said Wednesday on his monthly radio call-in show. He added: “My commitment to the voters is that they should not have to risk their health in order to vote.”
Ardoin refused to change the plan — saying he couldn’t win enough Republican support from the majority-GOP Legislature to pass it if he widened absentee voting rules to match the emergency regulations used for the state’s July and August elections.
“The politics of it have almost created an untenable situation,” Ardoin said.
Louisiana’s absentee balloting procedure is limited to people 65 or older, members of the military, overseas voters, people who are hospitalized, people who are physically disabled and people who won’t be in their parish for the 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.
Edwards wanted Ardoin to propose something similar 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 and for the Dec. 5 runoff election.
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