Louisiana Republican officials’ reluctance to allow expanded mail-in voting this fall—despite having done so for summer elections—is at issue in a federal case unfolding this week in Baton Rouge amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Voting rights advocates have filed a lawsuit against the current, limited plan for absentee mail balloting drawn up by Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin. Ardoin, a Republican, has said he could not get needed approval from GOP lawmakers for anything more expansive.
But, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ approval also is needed and he has said Ardoin’s plan does too little to protect voter health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Edwards has asked U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick in Baton Rouge to resolve what amounts to a stalemate by ordering broader mail-in voting in the state.
Dick presided over an online hearing where preliminaries were discussed Tuesday. Witnesses in the case have already filed written testimony. Cross-examination of witnesses was expected Wednesday.
Louisiana’s usual absentee, mail-in balloting procedure is limited to people 65 or older, members of the military, overseas voters, people who are hospitalized, people who are physically disabled and people who won’t be in their parish for the election.
For the fall elections, Ardoin’s plan calls for a limited expansion of absentee mail voting for those confirmed to have COVID-19.
That’s less than was allowed under the plan Ardoin, Edwards and lawmakers agreed on for the summer elections: Voters were allowed to seek an absentee ballot if they attested they were at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 because of medical conditions; were subject to a quarantine order; were advised by a health provider to self-quarantine; were experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking medical confirmation; or were caring for someone who is isolated because of the disease.
Dick upheld that plan for the July and August elections in prior litigation. And the state’s approval of that plan figured in a ruling she posted Monday, refusing a motion by state officials to dismiss the lawsuit.
“Previously, the state recognized and abided by its obligation to protect and enfranchise its
citizens’ vote,” she wrote. “But now Louisiana voters are left high and dry without a Plan.”
It’s not clear how soon Dick will rule after Wednesday’s testimony.