The Smoothie King Center, the arena for the New Orleans Pelicans NBA franchise, was open for early voting before the Nov. 3 election. (Photo by Jarvis DeBerry / Louisiana Illuminator)
The Louisiana Legislature passed a bill Friday that changes the way the state adopts an emergency election plan and allows for some extra accommodations for early voting during such emergencies.
Senate Bill 20, introduced by Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, allows the secretary of state to present multiple versions of an emergency election plan to a joint House-Senate governmental affairs committee. Lawmakers on the committee could offer amendments and ask the secretary to change any aspects of the plan. The governor or a designee would also have the option of proposing changes.
The new procedures aim to streamline what some legislators complained is a sluggish and sometimes contentious process to accommodate voters during emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Current law requires the secretary of state to create an emergency plan that needs to be approved by the House and Governmental Affairs Committee, the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee, both chambers of the Louisiana Legislature and the governor.
Earlier this year, Ardoin, a Republican, was criticized by others in his party after he produced a plan for the elections in July and August that expanded the use of mail-in ballots for those who were more likely to suffer from COVID-19. But, in August, he proposed a plan without those accommodations because Republican lawmakers would have refused to approve it otherwise. That plan was approved by the legislature, but Gov. John Bel Edwards refused to sign it.
Plaintiffs who said the absence of an emergency election plan put an undue burden on their ability to vote successfully sued the state in federal court. U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick ordered the state to use an election plan almost identical to the one it had used in the summer.
Under Hewitt’s legislation, an emergency election plan would need to pass only the single joint committee before the full legislature votes on it. In an effort to prevent hold-ups or deliberate delays, it sets a series of five-day deadlines at each step in the process. Once approved by the legislature, the governor would have five days to approve it. If he disapproves it, legislators can immediately attempt to override with a vote of two thirds of each chamber..
Hewitt’s bill also removes restrictions that require early votes to be cast at registrars’ offices and allows them to be cast at more accessible locations approved by the secretary of state. An increase in the number of voting locations could prevent the long lines that early voters have faced over the last week..
As originally presented, Hewitt’s bill would have severely diminished the governor’s role in the development of an emergency elections plan and prevented him from blocking it from becoming law. But the bill being sent to the governor’s desk maintains the governor’s role.
Also Friday, lawmakers sent Edwards a bill introduced by Rep. Blake Miguez, R-Erath, that says the state’s election officials are prohibited from accepting donations to help cover the costs of an election.
The Center for Tech and Civic Life, a nonpartisan nonprofit that has received funding from some of America’s staple corporations and charitable organizations, including Google, Facebook, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the Knight Foundation, has been providing grants to election officials across the country “to promote safe and reliable voting.”
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan have committed $350 million to that effort, which awarded millions to several Louisiana parishes — particularly those devastated by Hurricanes Laura and Delta — to pay for things such as polling signs, tents, and personal protective equipment. However, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry blocked the grant money, crying foul and alleging “an inherently insidious and corrupting effect.”
Miguez insisted at an Oct. 7 meeting that it is already illegal for election officials to accept donations and that his bill sought to clarify that point.
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