Ardoin’s package of election bills includes twice-rejected proposals

One would prohibit election workers from accepting free food

By: - April 5, 2023 9:00 am
Portable voting trailers in Terrebonne Parish

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 Republicans will try for the third year in a row to enact new election laws, including two that Gov. John Bel Edwards previously blocked. 

Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin previewed his legislative package for the 2023 regular session, which begins Monday. The bills would provide “election integrity” for Louisiana, according to Ardoin.  

House Bill 159, sponsored by Rep. Les Farnum, R-Sulphur, would require parish registrars to conduct an extra voter canvass each year. A voter canvass involves verifying the addresses of registered voters by matching them to state motor vehicle records. 

Under current state law, registrars must conduct a voter canvass every year. The Farnum bill would double their work. 

Winn Parish Registrar of Voters Bryan Kelley, who’s president of the Louisiana Registrars of Voters Association, said a canvass is a way to keep the voter rolls as accurate as possible. 

“The larger the parish, the more amount of work it takes,” Kelley said. “It probably wouldn’t affect us as much…[but] some of your larger parishes, it’s possible it could impact them to a degree.” 

Kelley said a canvass won’t immediately remove people from the voter rolls, but it does set the process in motion. Voters who don’t confirm their addresses are placed on an “inactive list.” If an inactive voter doesn’t vote in two consecutive federal elections, registrars must then cancel the voter’s registration.

“It does keep a lot of the dead weight off our roles,” he said. “You don’t want to disenfranchise people, but you also don’t want inaccurate roles… It is important to keep them as up to date as possible.”

Peter Robins-Brown, executive director of Louisiana Progress, said this will be the third consecutive year that GOP lawmakers have pushed this bill. Gov. John Bel Edwards has vetoed the bill because it’s simply not necessary to conduct two voter canvasses every year, he said. 

“It’s probably unnecessary and costly, but it’s not a real threat to voting rights,” Robins-Brown said. 

The second proposal in Ardoin’s package is one borne out of unfounded conspiracy theories that accuse Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg of trying to corrupt election officials.

Louisiana attorney general blocked millions in grant money awarded to parish clerks

House Bill 311, sponsored by Rep. Blake Miguez, R-Erath, is a constitutional amendment that would prohibit election officials from accepting private donations to pay for things such as tents, signs and other items used on election days. 

The issue began in 2020 when the nonpartisan, nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, offered grants to jurisdictions around the country to help pay for election expenses.

Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, donated $250 million. The CTCL also received funding from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Knight Foundation and Google, among other American companies and organizations. 

Ardoin was willing to receive the financial assistance and initially urged local court clerks and registrars to apply for the grants. Dozens of other counties and municipalities across the country had already received the donations. 

However, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, who has accused Facebook and Google of having left-leaning agendas, later told those local officials they would be violating the law if they accepted the money. Democrats said Landry’s interference was part of a conservative agenda to reduce voter turnout.

Miguez introduced legislation in 2021 that sought to “clarify existing law” to ensure accepting such donations would be illegal. At the time, he and officials from Landry’s office testified in committee that it was already illegal for any Louisiana election official to receive such grants, but they also argued that lawmakers needed to declare such help illegal. 

This year’s bill is markedly different as it suggests a connection between Zuckerberg and foreign governments. In previous years, the bill’s plain language prohibited donations from “profit or nonprofit corporations.” This year’s version instead frames such donations as “funds, goods or services donated by a foreign government or a nongovernmental source,” suggesting that foreign countries tried to corrupt local election officials in Louisiana.

Edwards vetoed the Miguez proposal in 2021, calling it an “unnecessary political ploy” and pointing to “overheated rhetoric.” The governor also noted such a law would prohibit local nonprofits, like American Legion halls or VFW chapters, from providing donuts to poll workers on Election Day.

However, this year’s bill is a proposed constitutional amendment, which would bypass the governor’s veto pen and head from the legislature to voters.

The Senate failed to approve Miguez’s bill last year before time ran out in the regular session.

Other proposals in Ardoin’s package of bills include:

  • House Bill 361, by Rep. Daryl Deshotel, R-Marksville, that would prohibit the use of TikTok on state devices or networks. Ardoin, Gov. John Bel Edwards and state Education Superintendent Cade Brumley have already banned the application from state-owned devices. 
  • House Bill 135, by Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Pineville, would prohibit registered sex offenders from serving as election commissioners. The proposal follows a recommendation from the state Board of Election Commissioners.
  • House Bill 216, by Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Houghton, would allow for military members and their dependents stationed in Louisiana to serve as election commissioners.
  • House Bill 174, by Rep. Julie Emerson, would protect the personal, identifiable information of active duty military members and their dependents who request absentee election ballots from being released in a public records request.


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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 years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi.