The Louisiana Senate passed a bill Thursday that greatly reduces the say the governor has in approving an emergency election plan. The legislation passed the bill introduced by Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, with a 22-12 vote.
The vote follows a contentious battle over the current COVID-19 emergency election plan with Gov. John Bel Edwards on one side and the Louisiana Legislature and Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin on the other.
COVID-19 continues to infect and kill Louisianians, but the two sides disagreed what should be in an emergency election plan for November and December. Ardoin crafted a plan to win the legislature’s support, and it did, but Edward refused to sign on to it. In response to a lawsuit by Louisiana voters who said the state was forcing people to risk getting sick to vote, a federal judge forced the state to adopt a plan that was closer to what Edwards wanted to see.
The Louisiana governor, whose signature is now necessary for an emergency elections law to take effect, would no longer have the power to block an emergency election bill if Hewitt’s bill becomes law.
Instead of such a plan needing the approval of the secretary of state, the legislature and the governor, it would need the support of the secretary of state and a 10-person commission that would include the governor and lawmakers. The bill would not be heard in the legislative committees that typically hear bills related to voting and elections but would go directly to the floor of both chambers if the 10-person commission approves it.
Hewitt described her bill as “streamlining” the process of creating an emergency elections bill. Those opposed to the bill said Hewitt was not only cutting the governor out of the process but cutting out legislative committees, too.
“Just yesterday we debated a bill and we said we wanted a seat at the table,” Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, said, referring to a bill from Senate President Page Cortez that would require a vote of both legislative chambers to override a governor’s emergency health order. “ And we all agreed. Unanimously supported the president’s bill. And here we are barely 24 hours later saying we shouldn’t have a seat at the table. Not to mention that we want to take the governor out of the equation. It doesn’t make sense.”
Hewitt insisted that “this is completely consistent with the bill we debated yesterday. We’re all at the same table. That’s the point.” Right now, she said, the secretary of state, governor and lawmakers are at three different tables.
Hewitt repeatedly argued that the process needs streamlining because when Gov. Edwards rejected Ardoin’s emergency election proposal, the secretary of state had little time left to act before absentee ballot applications needed to be printed. But U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick said suggested that Ardoin squandered the time he’d been given.
“The Secretary of State has been operating under a declared state of emergency since March 13, 2020. Yet, no plan for the November Presidential election was advanced until August 17, 2020, and that proposed Plan eliminated the previously implemented Virus-related excuses for mail-in voting,” Dick wrote in her Sept. 16 ruling.
The elimination of the virus-related excuses for mail-in voting is why Edwards rejected Ardoin’s proposal.
Hewitt’s bill now goes to the House, and if it passes in that chamber, it will proceed to Edwards’ desk for his signature or veto.
The senate voted on Hewitt’s bill shortly after Gov. Edwards held a press conference. In response to a question about bills that would check his power, Edwards said, “It’s really too early to know what any particular bill will look likes as it hits my desk, and as I always do I will reserve the right to pass judgment on a bill when it comes to me so that I can see exactly what it looks like.”