Louisiana would rework the way it shops for voting machines, under legislation that started moving forward Tuesday in the state Senate after two failed efforts to replace the state’s voting system ended in controversy. The proposal by Senate Republican leader Sharon Hewitt would add new layers of legislative oversight, broaden the types of voting systems allowed and remove some decision-making from Louisiana’s secretary of state. The measure would create a commission to analyze and select the type of voting system that could be bought or leased, rather than the secretary of state. The Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee, which Hewitt chairs, sent the bill to the full Senate for debate without objection. Hewitt, of Slidell, said her proposal would offer “a much more open, fair, transparent and accountable process for securing voting systems.” She said it would give the general public more points in the process to offer thoughts before the bid solicitation begins. Still, several people who repeated baseless allegations of widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election said Hewitt’s legislation, while well-intentioned, did not do enough to address their concerns. They said they wanted the bill to require paper ballots and more clear public input on the voting system selection.
Louisiana: Proposals to change voting machine-buying process, audit elections move forward | Sam Karlin/The Advocate
A Louisiana Senate panel on Tuesday backed a proposal to make a host of changes to how Louisiana buys new voting machines, after a recent effort to procure machines fell apart amid uproar from some voters who believe the 2020 election was rife with fraud. The Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee backed the legislation by Chairwoman Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, after lengthy testimony from concerned citizens and a Republican official who clamored for “secure paper ballots” and trashed Dominion Voting Systems, the company that currently provides Louisiana’s voting machines. The committee also backed Senate Bill 220 by Sen. Heather Cloud, R-Turkey Creek, to require the Louisiana legislative auditor to conduct a review of Louisiana’s election processes. The bills are among the first in a wave of election-related proposals that are expected to be heard during the legislative session that began last week. The push for voting changes come amid a national battle over efforts to tighten voting laws in the wake of the 2020 election. Hewitt’s Senate Bill 221 would set up several layers of oversight of Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin’s effort to buy new voting machines. Under the measure, Ardoin would be required to use input from lawmakers to create a set of standards for new machines. It would also create a new commission to evaluate voting systems.
Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin told lawmakers Thursday that he won’t soon restart Louisiana’s work to upgrade its voting technology, after two prior efforts to replace thousands of voting machines were scrapped amid controversy. Ardoin, the Republican who oversees Louisiana’s elections, shelved the latest voting machine replacement attempt in March after facing widespread complaints from election technology firms, the leader of a state Senate oversight committee and other Republicans. Lawmakers will consider changing the voting machine selection process in their upcoming legislative session. While Ardoin defended his agency’s handling of the contractor search, he told the House Appropriations Committee that he pulled back the bid solicitation process after consultation with House Speaker Clay Schexnayder and Senate President Page Cortez, both Republicans. “There is no intent to go out for another (request for proposals) anytime soon?” asked Appropriations Chairman Jerome “Zee” Zeringue, a Houma Republican, during a hearing on Ardoin’s budget for next year. “No,” Ardoin replied.
Louisiana Secretary of State withdraws RFP for electronic voting machines after complaints made against Dominion | Zach Parker/Ouachita Citizen
Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin ditched his request for proposals to replace 10,000 aging electronic voting machines last week in the face of mounting protest about how his office was handling the request. In January, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin asked the Office of State Procurement to issue a request for proposals, or RFP. The contract could be worth some $100 million. Since then, the state received complaints the RFP was drafted to favor Dominion Voting Systems, a Denver, Colorado voting machine vendor that became the target of national headlines alleging the company’s machines switched votes from former President Donald Trump to President Joe Biden last November. The company has denied the allegations. “I am in complete support of Secretary of State Ardoin’s decision to withdraw the current procurement process for new voting machines in Louisiana,” said state Senate President Page Cortez. “I believe this will bring an opportunity for full transparency on the purchasing process and election systems for all levels of government.” In a Feb. 26 letter to the state, a law firm representing Election Systems & Software LLC, a Omaha, Nebraska voting machine vendor, protested Ardoin’s RFP, suggesting only Dominion could meet the RFP’s demands. Hart InterCivic, an Austin, Texas election equipment vendor, objected to the RFP on Feb. 12. “This RFP seeks to replace the current system with a system virtually identical to the current system—a self-contained electronic voting system but adding only a specific type of paper backup,” stated the ES&S letter. “Dominion, the incumbent, is the only election system vendor that provides a product that fully meets all of the RFP criteria.
How Louisiana’s bid for new voting machines fell apart amid baseless fraud allegations | Sam Karlin/The Advocate
Louisiana’s top elections official, Kyle Ardoin, has known for years the state needed to replace its fleet of aging voting machines. After a previous effort to do so in 2018 was rejected, he officially began the quest again in January, seeking a vendor for the potentially $100 million contract. But the new effort coincided with a wave of baseless allegations against one of the three bidders, Dominion Voting Systems, that took hold in right-wing media in the wake of Donald Trump’s election loss in November. At the same time, the two other companies seeking the work halted the process by filing official protests of the plan. And Republican state lawmakers, many of whom were inundated with calls from constituents demanding the state not hire Dominion, slowed the process down, seeking more oversight and public hearings on the contract. As pressure mounted, Ardoin faced the prospect of failing to get approval from the legislative budget committee whose OK he needed. Last week, he abandoned the effort.
Louisiana: Trump conspiracy theories help stop plan to modernize voting equipment | David Hawkings/The Fulcrum
Louisiana’s unique standing as an election integrity risk, because it’s the only state without any paper trail for votes, is going to continue indefinitely. That’s because the top elections official on Wednesday called off his search to replace the state’s antiquated and entirely electronic fleet of 10,000 voting machines. Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin acted amid a whipsaw of criticism. On one side are two election equipment manufacturers who filed formal complaints alleging the bidding process was tailored to favor the current vendor, Dominion Voting Systems. On the other side are influential fellow Republicans, furious that a $100 million contract might go to the firm that former President Donald Trump has put at the heart of his conspiracy theories about election rigging. Caught in the middle will be the state’s electorate, who will remain the only people in the country with no connection to the world of balloting best practices. Even as the threat of hacking raises significant worries about relying on computer chips and code to record and keep track of votes, that is all Louisiana has done for more than two decades. At least some jurisdictions in every other state either use paper ballots or keep a paper record of their tallies.
Louisiana’s secretary of state decided Wednesday to shelve his search for new voting machines after a barrage of complaints about the bid process from election technology companies, the head of a state Senate oversight committee and his fellow Republicans. Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin sent a letter to Paula Tregre, Louisiana’s chief procurement officer, announcing his decision, asking her to remove the bid solicitation from a state website and requesting that she dismiss protests filed by two companies that wanted to seek the work. “I am withdrawing the (request for proposals) to spend the next few months seeking to undo the damage to voter confidence done by those who willfully spread misinformation and disinformation,” Ardoin said in a statement. In his pointed letter to Tregre and a follow-up statement, the Republican secretary of state accused Tregre of mishandling complaints from the vendors about the bid process, defended his search effort and suggested critics were using national concerns about election integrity to derail needed replacement voting machines. “We cannot let election administration become just another political football for politicians or voting machine vendors to kick around, without any understanding or concern for the consequences,” he said. Ardoin said he’ll redo the search in the future, though he gave no date for that plan. It’s the second time the secretary of state has jettisoned his effort to replace 10,000 Election Day and early voting machines, many of which are decades old. Ardoin also ran into problems with a previous effort in 2018.
If Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin needed another indication about the politically dicey nature of his work to replace Louisiana’s voting machines, he received a bracing and loud reminder during his luncheon speech to a group of Republican women. The women assembled at the Baton Rouge event interrupted his remarks, yelled questions, chastised his responses and accused the Republican elections chief of dodging their concerns. One woman shouted at him from a table, then moved closer to challenge him more directly, saying: “You work for us, and we are unhappy.” And those are people within Ardoin’s own party. “I hear you,” Ardoin repeatedly tried to tell the women. But it’s already clear Ardoin won’t be able to calm all the concerns. A dissatisfied leader of the Senate elections oversight committee Thursday pointedly urged Ardoin to shelve the bid process and redo it later. The secretary of state’s effort to replace 10,000 Election Day and early voting machines with newer, updated technology comes amid intense national scrutiny about the way people vote and the way elections officials tally those ballots. Despite dozens of court rulings upholding the presidential election results, supporters of Donald Trump continue to assert baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud in states the former president lost in November. They have targeted the current voting technology firm Louisiana uses, Dominion Voting Systems, for the unfounded claims. Some Republicans want to bar the company from being allowed to win another state contract — at odds with the public bid process.
Lousiana: Election Systems and Software protests state’s voting machine search | Melinda DeSlatte/Associated Press
Another elections technology firm is objecting to the terms of Louisiana’s voting machine search, accusing the secretary of state of trying to manipulate the bid process to benefit its current contractor and raising echoes of the dispute that derailed efforts to get new machines three years ago. Election Systems and Software filed a formal protest with Louisiana’s procurement office about the criteria that Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, the state’s top elections official, is using to replace 10,000 Election Day and early voting machines. The Nebraska-based voting system vendor, known as ES&S, said Ardoin’s bid solicitation will limit the state to choosing a “system virtually identical to the current system.” ES&S said it’s impossible for any company to meet the criteria except for Louisiana’s current contractor, Dominion Voting Systems. “It is a noncompetitive solicitation,” ES&S lawyers wrote in the protest filed Friday with Louisiana’s chief procurement officer, Paula Tregre.
A key Louisiana Senate leader Thursday called on Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin to jettison his search for new voting machines and redo the effort after seeking more guidance from lawmakers, election experts and the public. In a sharply worded letter to Ardoin, Sen. Sharon Hewitt said the state’s Republican elections chief rushed to start shopping for replacement voting equipment without legislative oversight and without trying to reinforce public trust. She accused Ardoin of “attempting to further avoid public scrutiny by hiding behind a blackout period” now that the solicitation for bidders is underway. “As THE statewide elected official charged with protecting our election procedures, your office’s actions are paramount to building trust and instilling confidence that our elections are fair and run according to Louisiana laws enacted by the legislature,” Hewitt wrote in a letter to Ardoin. Ardoin defended his search for a contractor and suggested he will continue to pursue the effort. Hewitt leads the Senate’s Republican delegation and chairs the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee that oversees election issues — a position that could make it difficult for Ardoin if he tries to continue shopping for voting machines without her support. Ardoin will need contract approval from the majority-GOP joint House and Senate budget committee before entering into any deal for election equipment, and Hewitt also sits on that panel.
Louisiana’s top elections official is pushing to resume his voting machine replacement effort, telling the state’s chief procurement officer that her temporary hold on work to hire a contractor “needlessly upended” the process. Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin lambasted the decision by Louisiana’s chief procurement officer Paula Tregre, whose office in Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration oversees the bidding process. Tregre stopped the voting machine shopping work after one of the interested vendors, Texas-based Hart InterCivic, complained the contractor solicitation was drawn too narrowly and could sideline it and other qualified voting technology firms. The secretary of state’s office said Wednesday that suggestions from the company that the bid solicitation wasn’t being inclusive to vendors “is absurd.” Ardoin sent a letter to Tregre on Sunday saying she “injected confusion” into the replacement effort. “By jumping the gun and declaring a stay of (request for proposals), we cannot even evaluate the concerns raised in Hart’s letter,” Ardoin wrote. It wasn’t clear when the contractor search will resume. Ardoin, a Republican, launched the search for a voting machine vendor on Jan. 27. Bids from companies interested in the contract were supposed to be due at the end of March. Louisiana’s contract is estimated to be worth up to $100 million. Ardoin wants to have the first new early voting machines in some parishes by the spring 2022 elections. Hart InterCivic CEO Julie Mathis said several of the secretary of state’s requirements for contractors — including the type of voting system sought, the machines’ screen size and the phased approach to rolling out new machines — could arbitrarily keep some election technology from being considered.
Louisiana Voting Machine Search Halted Amid Vendot Hart InterCivic Complaint | Melinda DeSlatte/Associated Press
Louisiana’s search for new voting machines was temporarily on hold Saturday after one of the vendors trying to compete for the work complained the contractor solicitation was drawn too narrowly and could sideline it and other qualified voting technology firms. Louisiana’s chief procurement officer Paula Tregre, whose office in Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration oversees the bidding process, stalled the solicitation for vendors seeking the voting machine contract on Friday evening after receiving a complaint from Hart InterCivic. It wasn’t immediately clear when the contractor search would resume, if the entire solicitation would have to be rewritten or what other action might be taken. Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, a Republican who is the state’s top elections official, suggested the decision to halt his office’s search was improper and unnecessary. The early disruption in Louisiana’s effort to shop for voting machines brought reminders of the secretary of state’s failed attempt in 2018 to replace its 10,000 early voting and Election Day equipment. Texas-based Hart InterCivic CEO Julie Mathis said several of the secretary of state’s requirements for contractors — including the type of voting system sought, the machines’ screen size and the phased approach to rolling out new machines — could “arbitrarily prevent the state from seeing all the best options available.” “We hoped the new solicitation would err on the side of inclusivity to ensure the state has the opportunity to evaluate all the best election systems available,” Mathis wrote in a Friday letter to Tregre and Ardoin. Upon receipt of the letter, Tregre responded with a “stay of solicitation” stopping the bid process. Tregre wrote that she was treating Hart InterCivic’s complaint as an official protest under the law. Mathis replied in a Friday email that the company hadn’t intended to “invoke a protest,” but rather to “open a dialogue.” But company spokesman Steven Sockwell on Saturday applauded Tregre’s approach.
The state’s efforts to find a new vendor to replace 10,000 aging electronic voting machines needs a closer look to ensure no single vendor is favored over another, state lawmakers say. Dominion Voting Systems, a Denver, Colorado-based voting machine vendor, is expected to be one of the companies submitting a proposal to the state. Last month, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin asked the Office of State Procurement to issue a request for proposals, or RFP. The contract could be worth some $100 million. In late 2018, Ardoin awarded the same contract to Dominion after it submitted a $95-million proposal, but the Office of State Procurement nixed the deal, according to media reports. One of Dominion’s competitors had complained the documents seeking proposals unfairly favored Dominion by requesting hardware specifications only Dominion could provide. Ardoin defended the selection of Dominion but deferred the matter until the RFP process could be rebooted, as it was on Jan. 27. Ardoin’s office did not respond to The Ouachita Citizen’s request for comment. Since the RFP controversy in 2018, Dominion became the subject of national headlines following the presidential election last November. After losing the election to now-President Joe Biden, former President Donald Trump claimed Dominion had perpetrated widespread election fraud, specifically that the vendor had switched votes from him to Biden. In response to those allegations, Ardoin and Dominion have each claimed the state’s use of Dominion’s voting equipment in recent elections was safe and secure. Area legislators say their constituents have not forgotten the Trump campaign’s complaints about Dominion. Concerning the mention of Dominion, state Rep. Michael Echols said, “My gut tells me that’s kind of a scary word in the political world, especially if you’re a Republican.”
Louisiana lawmakers intend a close watch as the state shops for new voting machines, a vendor search that comes in the aftermath of a divisive, partisan national uproar about the mechanics of casting ballots and the equipment used in that process. The solicitation for contractors went out last week, and lawmakers are planning a joint hearing of the House and Senate elections oversight committees on Feb. 19 to dig into the details of Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin’s effort to replace 10,000 decades-old voting machines. “We as legislators want to be able to tell our constituents that this is a good process and that we are confident in the vendor that was selected. I think part of our responsibility is rebuilding the public trust. I think some of the national issues have caused everyone to have doubts,” said Sen. Sharon Hewitt, the Slidell Republican who chairs the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee that oversees voting issues. Ardoin held a conference call Friday with GOP lawmakers to talk through the search he started Jan. 27 and what criteria a contractor must meet. The Republican elections chief has offered a similar briefing to Democrats, according to Ardoin’s spokesperson Tyler Brey. “As you can imagine, we’ve been getting a lot of calls from legislators who are getting constituent calls asking about voting issues,” Brey said. “We just wanted to provide some information that will maybe give peace of mind.” Voting machine contracts stretch over years, the deals are lucrative and only a few companies offer the equipment. Louisiana is expected to be the only state in the market for new machines this year, putting a spotlight on its work.
Louisiana has resumed efforts to replace thousands of decades-old voting machines, with the state’s elections chief issuing a new solicitation for bidders Wednesday amid a political climate where such contracts are getting intensified scrutiny. Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin already was going to face strong interest in his search for a contractor to update Louisiana’s voting system because allegations of improper bid handling derailed a previous effort to replace the machines in 2018. But the Republican elected official’s vendor search is expected to draw heightened monitoring because of the national debate over the presidential election and baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud by former President Donald Trump and his supporters. Ardoin understands the timing isn’t optimal, but he said the bid solicitation has safeguards he hopes will reassure people. Louisiana’s “voting equipment has been around for almost 30 years now, and I just don’t know how much longer they can last without us having major issues. It’s time to do this,” Ardoin said in an interview with The Associated Press. “The timing may not be perfect, but it certainly gives the Louisiana people the assurance that I’m looking at it from the perspective of a secure, safe and transparent process and election system.” Louisiana’s current voting machine contractor, Dominion Voting Systems, has specifically been targeted by conservatives who claimed without evidence that its machines were easily manipulated and somehow to blame for Trump’s loss in other states. Trump won Louisiana’s electoral votes. Dominion has sued Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, for spreading the unsubstantiated claims.
Louisiana: Legislators want look at Dominion contract, voting machine bids | Zach Parker/The Ouachita Citizen
State lawmakers say they plan to scrutinize the state’s process of seeking proposals from electronic voting machine vendors like Dominion Voting Systems before bids are let sometime this year. After the presidential election in November, the Denver, Colorado-based company Dominion drew the ire of President Donald Trump and others, who alleged the company’s voting software and voting machines were used to switch millions of votes from Trump to the Democrat nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden. The state Senate Committee on Senate and Governmental Affairs was scheduled to discuss which voting machine hardware the state would utilize in future elections during its meeting Tuesday. That agenda item, however, was rescheduled because someone in Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin’s office had tested positive for COVID-19. The Secretary of State’s office administers elections in Louisiana. “The Secretary’s office has been talking about needing to replace our aging voting machines,” said state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell. “They are embarking on a process to do that. I want this committee to have some oversight in that process.” Hewitt chairs the Senate and Governmental Affairs committee. According to Hewitt, she wanted the committee to address how bids would be awarded to companies seeking to provide voting machines and software to the state.
Louisiana: Voting machine malfunctions reported; Ardoin says issue was ‘intermittent’ | Mark Ballard/The Advocate
Voters around the state are complaining Tuesday of voting machine malfunctions, particularly when candidates from different parties are chosen. For instance, one voter at Banneker Elementary School in New Orleans reported that she noticed that after finishing, her presidential choice had been unselected, requiring her to go back and reselect her candidate. The voter told the poll worker, fearing that other voters wouldn’t notice. “So far, we have identified at least four different Parishes where this problem is occurring: Orleans, Lafayette, Caddo, and East Baton Rouge,” Victoria Wenger with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. in New York City said in a statement. “The malfunction deselects or changes voters’ selections for the presidential election, requiring a voter to both notice the malfunction and reselect their presidential votes — sometimes multiple times — in order to ensure that their ballot is completed, otherwise the ballots are submitted with the voter’s presidential choice changed or blanked out,” Wenger wrote. “Although the majority of reports concern the Presidential selection, one report mentioned this issue occurred on down-ballot races as well. It has become very apparent that this issue is not isolated to one or two machines, but rather spread across the state.”
Louisiana polling places likely to change for some due to Hurricane Zeta | Greg Hilburn/Monroe News-Star
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said it’s likely some voters won’t be able to cast ballots Tuesday at their normal polling places after Hurricane Zeta left widespread power outages and some structural damage in her wake. “It’s too early to say which polling places will not be in service Tuesday, but we’re working to identify them quickly so we have the opportunity to establish alternative locations and communicate that to voters,” Edwards said Friday. “But I’m fairly confident we will have some voters who won’t be able to vote at their normal polling places.” Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, Louisiana’s chief elections officer, is assessing what polling places might be affected through parish clerks of court.” The secretary of state’s office is working in close coordination with local officials to assess the damage sustained by our election partners and infrastructure, including registrar of voters offices, clerk of court offices, warehouses and polling locations,” Ardoin said Thursday. Edwards and Ardoin’s spokesman said it will likely be Saturday before a full assessment can be made.
Louisiana: Judge rules against Jeff Landry in suit against Zuckerberg-backed nonprofit over free election money | Sam Karlin/The New Orleans Advocate
A judge has sided against Attorney General Jeff Landry in his lawsuit seeking to block millions of dollars in free grants to local election officials, which were offered up by a nonprofit backed by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg with the stated goal of helping local leaders run elections in a pandemic. Judge Lewis Pitman, of the 16th Judicial District in St. Martin Parish, ruled against Landry in the lawsuit last week. Landry said in an interview he would appeal the ruling. Landry spokesman Cory Dennis added the attorney general expects there to be a hearing in the 16th Judicial District Court in the lawsuit against one of the plaintiffs, the Center for Tech and Civic Life, regardless of the appeal. Local election officials across the state last month applied for the grant money, offered by the Center for Tech and Civic Life, after Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin told the clerks and registrars about the opportunity. Zuckerberg had funded the grants with a $300 million donation to the nonprofit, and followed it up with another $100 million earlier this month after receiving a “far greater response” than anticipated, Zuckerberg said on Facebook.
Louisiana: Emails show how election officials shut down website on National Voter Registration Day | David Hammer/WWL
In mid-August, Louisiana elections officials delayed the scheduled maintenance of the state’s voter registration website from Sept. 8 to Sept. 22, apparently never noticing the move would shut down the site for hours on National Voter Registration Day and cause a political firestorm.Nearly 300 pages of public Secretary of State’s Office emails obtained by WWL-TV through a public records request seem to indicate the scheduling snafu was an honest mistake by election officials who were focused on the Aug. 15 municipal elections and an especially challenging election season. “The 2020 election cycle presented unprecedented challenges to our state, including a global pandemic and two hurricanes,” Secretary of State spokesman Tyler Brey said. “Despite a strained staff, the July and August elections were conducted without incident or error, and the presidential election is being administered with the same level of excellence Louisiana voters have come to expect.” But Democrats expressed suspicion about the motives of the Republican secretary of state, Kyle Ardoin. GOP legislators had pressed Ardoin this summer to make his emergency election plan more restrictive in November than it had been for the primaries and municipal elections.
Louisiana: Mail-in ballots, early turnout up for Louisiana’s locked-in presidential primary Saturday | Andrew Capps/Lafayette Daily Advertiser
More than 191,000 Louisiana voters already have cast ballots in the state’s presidential primary as election officials prepare for Saturday’s in-person voting for a national race that is already decided. Republican President Donald Trump and former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden have their respective party’s nominations locked-in, with the formal convention nominations all that remains. Louisiana voters are casting ballots in the presidential preference. Saturday is Election Day, with the ballot also offering choices for internal political party positions. Polls will be open across the state from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday’s, which will be the first election held in Louisiana since the coronavirus pandemic outbreak in March. State officials postponed the scheduled April primary as most of Louisiana was shut down in the spring. Access to mail-in ballots was expanded for Saturday’s election due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19 as the election.
Louisiana: Lawsuits challenging Louisiana virus election plan dismissed | Melinda Deslatte/The Advocate
A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit challenging Louisiana’s emergency plan for its July presidential primary and August municipal elections, a plan written in response to the coronavirus outbreak. The emergency plan — crafted by Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin and approved by state lawmakers in April — increased early voting by six days and expanded mail-in balloting options for some people at higher risk to the virus. Two separate lawsuits filed in Baton Rouge federal court argued the plan didn’t go far enough to protect people from the virus. U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick, of Baton Rouge, disagreed in a decision issued Monday that dismissed the consolidated lawsuits and upheld the plan. “The court rejects plaintiffs’ contention that they are being ‘forced to choose’ between their health and voting,” Dick wrote. The 13-day early voting period for the July 11 presidential primary is ongoing, running through July 4. Applications for mail-in ballots are due by July 7.
Louisiana: Secretary of State rejects federal money with strings attached for fall elections | Greg LaRose/WDSU
Louisiana’s top elections official says he won’t accept federal money to expand voter access this fall if it comes with strings attached. His declaration today comes as civil rights advocates have said Louisiana is among the states with unreasonable barriers to voting. Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin was among the witnesses who spoke to members of a congressional subcommittee about how states will handle elections amid the coronavirus pandemic. Congress is considering whether to send COVID-19 stimulus funds to states so they can offer options like mail-in voting in order to keep citizens safe. President Donald Trump and conservatives have argued the expansion of mail-in voting would exacerbate election fraud, although without examples of where it has occurred widespread. “Receiving one-time money during an unprecedented crisis at the expense of radically changing our election system is a tradeoff we’re not willing to make,” Ardoin told members of a U.S. House subcommittee on elections.
Louisiana: Group seeks mail-in voting for all Louisiana voters during pandemic | Ashley White/Lafayette Daily Advertiser
A new lawsuit seeks to expand Louisiana voters’ ability to cast ballots by mail for the 2020 elections. The League of Women Voters of Louisiana filed the lawsuit last week in U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge, claiming the state’s emergency election plan fails to provide voters adequate protection during the conronavirus pandemic. The lawsuit names as defendants Gov. John Bel Edwards, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, Lafayette Parish Registrar of Voters Charlene Menard and Terrebonne Parish Registrar of Voters Rhonda Rogers. “With its high transmission and mortality rates, COVID-19 poses a significant risk to in-person voters, especially to those voters at higher risk of severe complications from COVID-19,” the lawsuit states. “The pandemic has decimated voter registration drive activity, makes it unreasonably dangerous and burdensome to comply with certain requirements for mail-in absentee voting, and threatens massive withdrawals by volunteer poll workers who justifiably fear contracting the disease.”
A Louisiana House committee Tuesday rejected legislation that would have allowed all registered voters to vote by mail in all state elections, including this fall’s presidential contest. More voters than normal can cast mail-in ballots in 33 states and Washington, D.C., this year to reduce health risks from the coronavirus. Some states, such as Colorado, Oregon and Washington, rely entirely on mail-in ballots for all their elections. Red states like Wyoming, Montana, Utah and Alaska also have decided to conduct their presidential primaries this year entirely through mail ballots. Michigan, a political swing state, announced Tuesday that it would send mail-in ballots to all its voters for the fall election. New Orleans Democratic Rep. Mandie Landry’s House Bill 419 would not mandate voting by mail but simply allow it to be used more broadly. Before the House and Governmental Affairs committee, the measure failed in a party-line, 9-5 vote.
Louisiana: Suit has been filed challenging State’s COVID-19 absentee voting restrictions | New Orleans’ Multicultural News Source | Fritz Esker/The Louisiana Weekly
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) and the Washington, D.C. law firm Covington & Burling, LLP filed a federal lawsuit on May 7 challenging voting requirements imposed by the state of Louisiana. The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, centers around restrictions on the use of absentee mail-in ballots and the health risk to in-person voters during the COVID-19 pandemic. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, the Louisiana State Conference of the NAACP, and four individual voters. “Risking your health, and the health of your family, should not be a requirement to partake in the electoral process,” said Catherine Meza, senior counsel at the LDF, in a statement. “We are hoping this lawsuit not only increases access to absentee voting, but also makes in-person voting safer, so Louisianians can exercise their constitutional right without putting their lives at risk.”
Louisiana: Voters and advocates sue Louisiana officials over COVID-19 election plans | David Jacobs/The Center Square
Four voters and two advocacy groups have sued Louisiana officials, alleging the state is not doing enough to protect the right to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic. State lawmakers have approved an emergency voting plan crafted by Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin and Attorney General Jeff Landry meant to address public health concerns related to in-person voting. But the plan applies only to a presidential preference and municipal primary election currently scheduled for July and a municipal general election planned for August, not the federal elections set for the fall. Even for the summer elections, Louisiana’s plan doesn’t allow enough people to vote by mail, the four voters, the Louisiana NAACP and the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice argue. The plan temporarily adds being subject to a medically necessary quarantine, experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or awaiting a diagnosis, caring for someone who is quarantined, or having a chronic health condition that imparts a higher risk of serious COVID-19 complications as valid reasons to use an absentee ballot. It also temporarily waives the usual requirement that first-time voters must vote in person.
Louisiana: Emergency election plan draws lawsuit over limits on mail-in voting during pandemic | Coronavirus | Sam Karlin/The Advocate
An emergency election plan aimed at addressing voting during the coronavirus pandemic, which Republican lawmakers altered to limit the expansion of mail-in ballots, has drawn a federal lawsuit seeking a more robust expansion of absentee voting. The lawsuit, brought by the NAACP, Power Coalition for Equity and Justice and four individual voters, says the reasons voters can access mail-in ballots under the plan fall short of protecting voters of the coronavirus, which has taken an outsized toll on Louisiana. It calls the plan “unduly restrictive” and seeks to repeal the requirements that voters present an excuse to receive an absentee ballot, thereby expanding them to everyone. “Risking your health, and the health of your family, should not be a requirement to partake in the electoral process,” Catherine Meza, senior counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said in a statement. “We are hoping this lawsuit not only increases access to absentee voting but also makes in-person voting safer, so that Louisianans can exercise their constitutional right without putting their lives at risk.” The lawsuit also asks for other rules on absentee ballots to be suspended and for early voting to be expanded, among other things, all while the coronavirus pandemic is ongoing in Louisiana. The lawsuit argues the election plan would particularly impact black voters, because the virus has taken a disproportionate toll on minorities.
The question of how Louisiana will run its 2020 primary election in the middle of a pandemic is a divisive one. In deciding on Tuesday to delay Louisiana’s presidential primary to July 11, the Legislature insisted that state election officials scale back plans to rely less on in-person voting and more on mail voting to reduce the health risks. Three blue states–Washington, Oregon and Colorado–conduct all of their elections through mail-in votes, and four red states–Wyoming, Montana, Utah and Alaska–are joining them this year in conducting their presidential primaries entirely through mail ballots. Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, 28 other states have announced plans to increase access to absentee ballots or take other actions to keep voters from lining up at polling places. Republican legislators expressed concern that more mail-in ballots could increase the potential for voter fraud. But national election experts say there have been few instances of fraud as other states have expanded voting by mail. And even once the risks from the virus ease, they say, Louisiana could increase voter turnout if it made greater use of alternative voting methods.
Louisiana: Legislature passes election plan after rolling back access to mail-in ballots | Sam Karlan/The Advocate
An emergency plan for Louisiana’s delayed spring elections was approved by the state Legislature after Republican lawmakers rolled back an expansion of mail-in ballots for people concerned about the coronavirus. The state House and Senate both approved the revised plan, crafted by Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, even as a contingent of GOP lawmakers sought to block it because they believed it still featured too much access to mail-in ballots. Lawmakers voted by mail on the emergency plan. The House approved it on a 62-to-39 vote and the Senate voted 31-to-8. Following the vote, Ardoin called it a “pragmatic and temporary response” to the pandemic. Ardoin originally worked with Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards on the emergency plan, and settled on an expansion of mail-in ballots to those 60 or older, those subject to a stay-at-home order, those unable to appear in public due to concern of exposure or transmission of COVID-19, or those caring for a child or grandchild whose school or child care provider is closed because of the virus, among others.