BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana will continue to use an expanded version of absentee-by-mail voting for the upcoming spring elections that will fill two U.S. House seats, under a coronavirus emergency plan that won bipartisan approval from lawmakers Thursday.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, already had announced his support of the plan submitted by Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, a Republican. Ballots submitted by lawmakers and released by each chamber showed 80 of 105 House members agreed to the proposal, along with 35 of 39 senators.
With that final legislative decision, voters for the March 20 and April 24 elections — which include competitions for the vacant 2nd District and 5th District congressional seats — will have five COVID-19-related reasons to request an absentee ballot rather than vote in person.
Louisiana’s absentee balloting procedure is usually 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.
The emergency rules will allow people to seek an absentee ballot if they are at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 because of medical conditions; are subject to a quarantine order; are advised by a health provider to self-quarantine; are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking medical confirmation; or are caring for someone who is isolated because of the disease.
Those are the same expanded absentee-by-mail voting rules that were in place for the summer and fall elections, including the November presidential competition.
But Ardoin won’t be increasing the number of days of early voting as he did in the previous elections.
While absentee-by-mail voting increased in recent elections, most mail-in votes were cast by people legally able to do it without the emergency rules. Only small percentages of voters used the COVID-19 rules in submitting absentee ballots for the 2020 elections, according to the secretary of state’s data.
Ardoin said he was "pleased" at the bipartisan support, and that the plan is a "pragmatic response" to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. His full statement is below:
"I am pleased that this emergency plan passed with overwhelming, bipartisan support at every step of this process. This plan is a pragmatic response to the recent unprecedented surge in the COVID19 pandemic. Together, the Clerks of Court, Registrars of Voters and their staff's along with the entire SOS elections staff will provide the people of Louisiana safe, secure and accurate elections to which they are accustomed."
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