Republican-friendly election plan breezes past Senate committee

COVID-19 patients must get doctor’s sworn statement to vote absentee

By: - August 20, 2020 6:04 pm
Kyle Ardoin sitting in a state House committee meeting

Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin testifies in front of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. (Photo by Wes Muller/LA Illuminator).

Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin’s proposed emergency election plan passed through a second legislative committee on Thursday, as most expected it would. Ardoin, a Republican, said he wrote the plan specifically so that it would appease Republican lawmakers who make up the majority of the Louisiana Legislature and whose votes are needed to approve a plan.

The State Committee on Senate and Governmental Affairs approved the plan in a 5-3 vote, split along party and racial lines. All the votes for Ardoin’s plan came from White Republicans. All the opposing votes came from Black Democrats.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, whose approval is required for any emergency voting plan, has said he won’t sign Ardoin’s because it isn’t a sufficient response to the threat posed by the pandemic.

Either we’ll have no emergency plan, or the plan will come from the court,” the governor said Tuesday.

Before Ardoin announced his plan, he and Edwards had already been sued by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund for what it calls Louisiana’s insufficient accommodations for people who are vulnerable to getting sick amidst a deadly pandemic.

Ardoin’s plan eliminates virtually all voting accommodations for COVID-19 patients and residents who are vulnerable to the coronavirus or under quarantine. Although the purpose of an emergency election plan is to allow for greater accommodations and less-stringent guidelines, Ardoin’s new guidelines for obtaining an absentee ballot are stricter than the election plan Louisiana had during the summer elections.

It requires anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 to present a sworn certificate from a physician in order to receive an absentee ballot — which was not previously a requirement.

Committee Chairperson Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, said voting at the polls is more secure than voting by mail.

“I don’t see this as suppressing votes,” Hewitt said. “I see this as a better plan to get votes counted.”

The corresponding committee in the House approved Ardoin’s plan on Wednesday, but with much more debate than the Senate committee. In the House committee, one of the Republican members voted against Ardoin’s plan.

Although the plan contains no accommodations for voters who may be particularly vulnerable to coronavirus or who are under quarantine for having come in contact with a individual with COVID-19, Ardoin testified Wednesday that residents in those situations can use the disability provision that exists under current state law.

Rep. Barry Ivey, the House Republican who has vehemently opposed the plan, attended Thursday’s hearing as a citizen spectator and addressed the Senate committee during the public forum period. He criticized the disability provision, pointing out that a 20-year-old with a common condition such as high blood pressure is vulnerable to coronavirus; henceforth, that person would need a doctor to certify that his or high blood pressure is a “disability” in order to vote absentee.

“This is what we get when we’re not focused on doing the people’s business,” Ivey said, emphatically. “I ask that we kill this, defer it, whatever and request the secretary of state to bring forth the same plan (that was in place for the summer elections)…and come back Saturday or Sunday. There is time.

“There is time,” he added. “I’ll come back Sunday night. I don’t care. I’ll come back because the people of our state deserve it.”

Ivey’s plea fell on deaf ears.

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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots to 1997 when, at age 13, he built a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. Since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune and worked on staff at WAFB/CBS, the Sun Herald and the Enterprise-Journal, winning awards from the SPJ, Associated Press, Mississippi Press Association and McClatchy. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Muller is a New Orleans native, Jesuit High School alumnus, University of New Orleans alumnus and a U.S. Army veteran and former paratrooper. He lives in Southeast Louisiana with his two sons and wife.