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What Louisiana needs to know about 3 constitutional amendments on Dec. 10 runoff ballot

Tom Arthur
A voter makes his choices in at a New Orleans Garden District polling place on Election Day, Nov. 8, 2022. (Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator)

In New Orleans, all eyes are on the Public Service Commission runoff on Dec. 10, but in many parts of the state, three proposed constitutional amendments will be the only thing on Louisiana voters’ ballots. If passed, the amendments would clarify who can vote in state and local elections and would give the state Senate the opportunity to weigh in on the governor’s appointment to certain state oversight panels.

Here’s how they will appear on the ballot:

Amendment 1: “Do you support an amendment to provide that no person who is not a citizen of the United States shall be allowed to register and vote in this state?”

Amendment 2: “Do you support an amendment to make appointed members of the State Civil Service Commission subject to confirmation by the Louisiana Senate?”

Amendment 3: “Do you support an amendment to make appointed members of the State Police Commission subject to confirmation by the Louisiana Senate?”

Capitol Access reporter Paul Braun discussed the proposed amendments with WRKF Host Adam Vos.

Adam Vos: Do we really need a constitutional amendment to say that only citizens can vote. I would have thought that was already settled.

Paul Braun: Louisiana’s constitution currently says that voting is open to anyone who is at least 18 years old and a citizen of the state. State citizenship is not affirmed like U.S. citizenship. States don’t issue passports and people don’t have to take citizenship tests when they move across state lines. The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides that state citizenship is based on residency. So, does that leave the door open for non-citizens who are legal residents to vote?

In short, no. Federal law already prohibits non-citizens from participating in any federal elections. And the state election code requires people who register to vote to attest that they are a citizen of the United States. It’s the first question on the application form.

No municipality in Louisiana has tried to open local elections to non-citizens, so some people have argued that this amendment is a solution in search of a problem.

But supporters of the amendment said it is a direct response to efforts in other parts of the country to allow non-citizens to vote in some municipal elections.

Last year the New York City Council passed legislation that would open local elections to more than 800,000 legal residents of the city who are not U.S. citizens. The ordinance was struck down by a state Supreme Court justice back in June because it was incompatible with language in New York’s constitution — language just like what Amendment 1 would add to Louisiana’s constitution.

AV: What about Amendments 2 and 3, and the state Senate’s confirmation of gubernatorial appointments to the state Police Commission and Civil Service Commission? Is there really any difference between these two proposals?

PB: Not a whole lot. Yes, the Civil Service Commission and State Police Commission are two separate entities, but at their core, these two ballot measures are asking the same question: What role do you think the state Senate should have in overseeing the governor’s appointments to these two boards that oversee state employees and state law enforcement?

How you vote on Amendment 2 is probably how you’re going to vote on Amendment 3, and the arguments for and against each are basically the same.

The argument in favor: State legislators, as proxies for Louisiana citizens, should be able to vet the governor’s appointments to these boards. It’s checks and balances. It’s added accountability. And we already require Senate confirmation for all sorts of top-level boards and commissions. Folks argue that it’s especially important because we’re talking about the people who handle disciplinary matters for law enforcement and other state employees.

On the other hand, some argue that letting the Senate get involved could politicize what is supposed to be an apolitical appointment process. And because the Senate’s confirmation hearings are held behind closed doors, the change would not give the public any insight into the qualifications of the appointees.

In recent years, the few times state senators have objected to gubernatorial appointments, they did so to settle personal political squabbles, not because they thought the appointees were unqualified.

Is this confirmation process something that could be established in a statute instead of a full-on constitutional amendment? Probably so, but the Senate confirmation for other appointments has already been enshrined in Louisiana’s bloated state constitution, so here we are.

AV: It seems like we sifted through another set of amendments just a few weeks ago for the midterms. Why is it that we are voting on another round?

PB: Between the midterms earlier this month and the runoff, voters will weigh in on nearly a dozen proposed constitutional amendments.

State election officials and some lawmakers thought that cramming 11 proposed amendments on voters’ already crowded midterm ballots would be confusing — especially considering the arcane, and frankly, wonky tax and state finance questions in that first set we already voted on.

But we’re going from a highly-anticipated midterm election where control of Congress was up for grab to a runoff where the highest profile race is for the state Public Service Commission.

That is still an incredibly important office and the race this year is perhaps the most interesting PSC race in recent memory, but there is no doubt that turnout is going to be much lower. And that means a far smaller number of voters will decide the fate of these proposed amendments.

That doesn’t sit well with everybody. I talked with Ashley Shelton of the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice about this, and she said the Secretary of State’s decision to split the amendments and reword the ballot language of other proposals goes beyond the even-handed administration of elections and amounts to a political act.

This can cut both ways. The inclusion of particularly controversial amendments in certain elections has the potential to influence other races.

We can look back to 2019 when lawmakers first proposed an amendment explicitly stating the state constitution could not be interpreted to include a right to an abortion. The legislation’s sponsor, Monroe Democrat Katrina Jackson, originally proposed that the amendment be included on the ballot later that year — the same time Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards was going up for reelection — but decided to switch the election date to coincide with the 2020 presidential election a year later.

Jackson said she moved the election date because she wanted the largest possible number of voters to weigh in on such an important issue. But her Republican colleagues claimed at the time that she moved the election because she didn’t want to give conservative voters any more incentive to head to the polls when Edwards, a fellow Democrat, was facing a tough reelection fight.

Early in-person voting is underway and will continue through Dec. 3. Election Day is Dec. 10.

Paul Braun was WRKF's Capitol Access reporter, from 2019 through 2023.