Workers with the Louisiana Secretary of State’s office assemble portable voting trailers at the Bourg Community Center in Terrebonne Parish on Nov. 8, 2021, ahead of the Nov. 13 statewide election. (Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)
Louisiana lawmakers have commissioned a task force to study the expansion of voting rights for people with disabilities.
House Concurrent Resolution 14, sponsored by Rep. Matthew Willard, D-New Orleans, received final passage Monday with a unanimous vote in the Senate.
The task force will examine amenities and procedures currently available for disabled voters and any impediments that might exist. Its members will then make recommendations that could be included in future legislation.
The proposal received bipartisan support only after House Republicans removed the phrase “curbside voting” from the legislation. The original version included curbside voting as a topic to study for people who use wheelchairs or cannot physically enter a polling place, but it received heavy pushback from GOP lawmakers in the House and Governmental Affairs Committee.
The final version instead directs the task force to study, at a minimum, ways to streamline how disabled voters receive “assistance when voting.”
Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, a Republican, told the House and Governmental Affairs Committee on April 19 that the feedback he has received indicates the disabled community wants to be able to vote without intrusive assistance.
“They would like as many options as possible to be able to vote independently and not have to have assistance at the polling places,” Ardoin said. “To my understanding, I think that is why they’re asking us to do this study.”
A system of voting that makes disabled people rely on personal assistance does not offer the anonymity that is constitutionally guaranteed and afforded to everyone else through the secret ballot, Ardoin said.
Approximately 270,000 disabled people in Louisiana voted in the 2020 election and an estimated 643,000 are currently eligible to vote, according to Rutgers University’s Program on Disability Research.
The task force will be composed of 13 members who will serve without compensation. They include:
- the secretary of state or their designee;
- three disabled people appointed by the state Office of Disability Affairs;
- the commissioner of elections;
- one person appointed by the Clerks of Court Association;
- one person appointed by the Registrars of Voters Association;
- the secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health or their designee;
- one disabled person appointed by the executive director of Disability Rights Louisiana;
- one disabled person appointed by the chief executive officer of the Split Second Foundation;
- one disabled person appointed by the executive director of the Louisiana Developmental Disabilities Council;
- one disabled person appointed by the executive director of The Arc of Louisiana; and
- the executive director of the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, or their designee.
A concurrent resolution does not require the governor’s approval.
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