Bill that would block governor’s ability to veto emergency election plan passes committee

An established emergency commission would have full power on election plans

Sharon Hewitt
Sharon Hewitt

A state senate committee on Wednesday advanced a bill that would eliminate the governor’s veto power on proposed emergency election plans. Senate Bill 20, introduced by Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, would establish an “Emergency Election Commission” made up of eight legislators (at least two Republicans and two Democrats), the secretary of state, and the governor. Each would have an equal vote with the secretary of state able to break a tie. The bill advanced through the committee with no objections.

The commission would have the power to create and enact emergency election plans from start to finish. The current process requires the secretary of state to create an emergency election plan that’s approved by the Louisiana Legislature and signed by the governor.

Hewitt, who brought Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin as a witness, said the current process is “very cumbersome and drawn out.” During Wednesday’s hearing she described her bill as a solution that would streamline the process and invite bipartisan support for future plans. 

“We are proposing that we would develop a commission that would have all of those stakeholders basically participating,” Hewitt said. “The governor would participate or his designee.”

Hewitt’s bill would strip away the governor’s veto power, ensuring that Louisiana’s Republican-controlled legislature would be able to enact election plans despite a governor’s objection. In August, Ardoin and the legislature created an emergency election plan that made it nearly impossible for voters concerned about the coronavirus to use absentee ballots. Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed that plan.

In April, Secretary Ardoin created a plan for the summer primaries that made some allowances for Louisianans who are more vulnerable to complications from COVID-19 to vote absentee. Although the plan received bipartisan support and passed the legislature, Ardoin took some heat from the GOP for those accommodations. At the same time, civil rights advocates sued the state, arguing that the plan hadn’t expanded voter access enough.

In August, Secretary Ardoin presented a new plan for the upcoming general elections that removed virtually all the COVID-19 allowances. He said it was the only way the Republican lawmakers would vote for it.  On Sept. 16, U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick of the U.S. Middle District of Louisiana, ruled for plaintiffs who accused the state of not fairly accommodating voters with legitimate fears of getting sick and/or infecting their medically vulnerable loved ones.

“Plaintiffs have shown that the state’s failure to provide accommodation for pandemic-affected voters is likely unconstitutional because it imposes an undue burden on Plaintiffs’ right to vote,” Dick wrote in her ruling. Ardoin waited more than a week to officially respond and announced on Sept. 25 that he would not appeal the judge’s ruling.

Ardoin on Wednesday called the current process “broken” and said, “I believe the recent lengthy and contentious debate over the plan I presented in August proves that. In fact, during that process, many legislators said publicly that the process in place does not work.”

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Wesley Muller
Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the following 22 years since then, he has worked as a journalist for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. Much of his work has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and watchdog coverage of municipal and state government. He has received several honors and recognitions, including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus, a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper, and an adjunct English teacher at Baton Rouge Community College. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his teenage son and his wife, who is also a journalist.