BATON ROUGE, La. - Today, the Louisiana Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee deferred action on a Louisiana Secretary of State-drafted Emergency Election Plan for the upcoming presidential preference primary in July and municipal general election in August. The SPLC Action Fund submitted written testimony urging necessary modifications to upcoming elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. The following statement is by Terry C. Landry, Jr., Louisiana Policy Director for the SPLC Action Fund:
“Every day that passes without a Legislature-approved plan to hold elections amidst the COVID-19 pandemic increases the danger of repeating what happened in Wisconsin last week in Louisiana in July, August, and potentially November. It is imperative that Louisiana’s elected officials act now to protect the health of voters, poll workers, and our democracy.
“The Secretary of State-drafted plan before the committees today would have made progress in protecting the democratic process and public health by including a COVID-19 related excuse for absentee ballots, expanding early voting, and moving polling locations where necessary. The Secretary’s plan was not perfect – among other things, the absentee ballot application for COVID-19 is unnecessarily complicated, the state should be waiving all witnessing requirements, early voting should include Sundays, and officials should be clear about how changes to polling places will be communicated clearly to voters and comply with federal antidiscrimination laws.
“The Senate committee chose not to build on the Secretary’s plan but to avoid acting at all and sent the Secretary of State back to the drawing board after many committee members cited unfounded and unsupported concerns about voter fraud and insinuated that voters who want a safe way to vote during a global pandemic would seek instead to undermine an election. In reality, the risk to our democracy is not so-called voter fraud, rather it is the harm that will come when thousands of voters are forced to choose between their health and their vote.
“In rejecting his plan, the committee gave the Secretary of State desperately little time to re-evaluate it, address unsubstantiated concerns by the committee, submit a new plan to the Legislature, present it to relevant Senate and House committees again, and have both bodies vote-by-mail to approve it. The committee members are hurtling the state into Wisconsin-like election circumstances based on misinformation and insinuation.
“It’s essential that legislature implement a plan without delay for July, August, and November elections that creates fewer hurdles and barriers for voters seeking to cast a ballot without endangering their health or the health of their loved ones. The Secretary of State is demonstrating his commitment to the voters of this state—the Legislature must do the same.”