House passes second version of vetoed elections bill

Bill derives from AG Landry’s dispute with Facebook

By: - May 5, 2021 6:00 am
Governor vetoes election grants bill — again

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)

For the second consecutive legislative session, on Tuesday the Louisiana House passed an elections bill that would prohibit state and local officials from receiving money from private or nonprofit organizations to help defray election-related expenses.

Rep. Blake Miguez, R-Erath, sponsored last year’s legislation, which Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed, and is sponsoring this year’s bill, House Bill 20.  

Miguez wrote last year’s bill after the nonpartisan nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life, in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, offered grants to jurisdictions around the country to help pay for expenses such as polling signs, tents, hand sanitizer, and personal protective equipment for poll workers. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan donated $250 million. Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin was willing to receive the financial assistance and initially urged local court clerks and voter registrars to apply for the grants.

However, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry accused Facebook of having a left-leaning agenda and told the election officials they’d be violating the law if they took it. Miguez  argued then that it was already illegal for any Louisiana election official to receive such help, but he also argued that lawmakers needed to pass his bill declaring such help illegal.

In addition to Facebook, the CTCL received funding from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Knight Foundation and Google, among other American companies and organizations. Election officials in Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin had already received grants when Louisiana election officials were notified that they too would receive the money. 

Landry filed a civil suit against CTCL in an attempt to stop the program, alleging the organization targeted specific areas of the state into which to pump money for “an inherently insidious and corrupting effect.” A judge in the 16th Judicial District in St. Martin Parish ruled against the attorney general but not in enough time for the state’s election officials to reapply for help before November’s presidential election. 

After heated partisan debate, 66 members of the House voted to send Miguez’s bill to the governor’s desk in October. On Tuesday, the House voted 69-35 to send Miguez’s bill to the Senate.

In his Oct. 27 veto message of last year’s bill, Gov. Edwards wrote, “Neither the bill’s author nor the Attorney General’s Office was able to point to the statutory conflict House Bill 51 is purportedly intended to resolve….House Bill 51 is an unnecessary political ploy that only serves to threaten the safety of polling places during a pandemic and increase the costs to taxpayers to administer safe elections.”

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Wesley Muller
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.

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