Appeal of Louisiana’s emergency election rules comes too late to change Nov. 3 rules

But Louisiana’s elections chief and A.G. want higher court to ‘review the law’

Election Plan Kyle Ardoin
Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin testifies in front of the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee regarding his proposed emergency election plan on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020. (Photo by Wes Muller/LA Illuminator).

In a move that has the potential to confuse Louisiana residents who will start voting Friday for president, the U.S. Senate and U.S. Congress, Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry on Tuesday appealed a federal judge’s ruling that establishes the emergency rules for that election. However, the appeal will not have an effect on the Nov. 3 election rules, which have already been established.  Residents who planned to vote as early as Friday can still do so, and residents who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 complications can still vote absentee.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick, the chief judge for the federal court in Baton Rouge, rejected an argument from the two Republican state officials that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic did not warrant an emergency election plan for the state.  Dick, ruling in favor of plaintiffs who said the regular rules put them and their loved ones at risk of suffering from the novel coronavirus, wrote: “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.”

Early voting begins Friday, Oct. 16.  Voting is beginning as early as it is because Judge Dick granted the request from plaintiffs to give residents more days than usual to vote.

Federal judge: Ongoing pandemic means Louisiana must use emergency election plan for November, December elections

In their appeal, Landry and Ardoin say, “Defendants appeal from any and all orders antecedent and ancillary thereto, including any and all interlocutory judgments, decrees, decisions, rulings, and opinions that merged into and became part of the opinion and injunction, that shaped the opinion and injunction, that are related to the opinions and/or the injunction, and upon which the opinions and/or the opinions and the injunction are based.”

The two officials aren’t asking for an expedited hearing. So the rules that Judge Dick ordered will be in effect in November. The notice of appeal states: “Defendants will not be seeking a stay pending appeal and intend for the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to decide the legal issues presented by this appeal following the normal and usual appellate procedures.”

Tyler Brey, press secretary for Ardoin’s office, said in a Tuesday afternoon statement: “We have said from the beginning of the process that we needed clarity in how to administer the election, and the appeal seeks no changes to the November 3rd election. We are not appealing for injunctive relief, and we are not asking for expedited consideration. We are simply asking for a review of the conclusions of law.” 

Bill Stiles, chief deputy attorney general, wrote in a statement: “We believe it is important for the Fifth Circuit to review the law upon which the district court relied its opinion. We believe the district court was wrong on the law. Despite media reports, the plaintiffs did not get the relief they were seeking, such as mail-in ballots for all registered voters and other concerning mandates we have seen in other states. While that was a victory, we believe it is in the interest of the State to have the law in this correct to ensure bad precedent does not get repeated.” 

The Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, one of the plaintiffs that filed suit against the state, accused Ardoin of not only going back on his word but also of sowing confusion. Ashley Shelton, the executive director of the coalition, said Tuesday: “Federal Judge Shelly Dick was clear in her ruling in Harding v. Edwards that Louisiana must extend early voting and add Covid-related reasons to request a mail ballot. Secretary of State Ardoin said that he wouldn’t be appealing the decision, and he moved forward with implementing the plan she laid out. It’s appalling that Sec. Ardoin and Attorney General Landry would go back on their word like this, especially with this timing. Filing this appeal at such a late stage in the election season will only serve to fuel confusion and disinformation, and further voter suppression.”