Gov. Edwards Says He Won’t Sign ‘Woefully Inadequate’ Emergency Elections Plan

Aug 19, 2020

Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday that he will not sign off on Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin’s emergency plan for this fall’s presidential election because it doesn’t do enough to ensure robust participation while protecting voters from the coronavirus.

The plan rolls back the accommodations made for the July 11 presidential primary and Aug. 15 municipal elections.

Only individuals who test positive for COVID-19 will be granted expanded access to mail-in ballots. The plan would also lengthen the early in-person voting from 7 days to 10 days and keep early voting locations open for an additional 1.5 hours each day.

“I think it is woefully inadequate to the task,” Edwards said of the plan. “I do not support it and as a result, that plan will not be carried out for these elections, and any resolution, if we are going to have an emergency plan, is going to have to come from the courts.”

State law requires the governor and state lawmakers to approve any emergency elections plan. The House and Government Affairs Committee will consider the plan Wednesday. The Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee will follow suit on Thursday.

Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said he will not revise his proposal.

“I negotiated the best possible plan that could pass the legislative committees, and if this issue must be resolved in the courts, I hope any ruling would include the critical mechanisms our office needs to administer the election,” Ardoin said in a statement Tuesday.

The Democratic Edwards and Republican Ardoin worked together on the first draft of the emergency election plan for this summer’s presidential primary and municipal elections that would have allowed almost anyone to request and receive a mail-in ballot.

Republican state lawmakers shot that proposal down in April, saying it did not do enough to protect against voter fraud.

Ardoin revised the plan in accordance with GOP lawmakers’ recommendations, scaling back access to absentee ballots. One week later it won legislative approval.

Edwards signed off on the plan, despite the changes, and both he and Ardoin characterized this summer’s elections as “successes.”

Nineteen percent of voters in the July presidential primary cast their votes by mail, dwarfing the previous record of 4 percent, Ardoin wrote in his draft plan.

Voting rights advocates have been critical of the state’s handling of election safety and access throughout the pandemic.

The Power Coalition for Equity and Justice and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit before the fall election plan was released.

Power Coalition Executive Director Ashley Shelton said her organization cataloged problems voters experienced during the July 11 and Aug. 15 elections and used those experiences as the basis for their lawsuit.

She said the plan proposed by Kyle Ardoin underscores the need for judicial intervention.

“The fact that we’re doing less, I find very troubling,” Shelton said. “The virus is still here. The election is just as important as the elections that were held in July and August, if not more important because it is presidential, congressional, municipal, [district attorneys] races across the state, and we’re going to give people less pathways to their vote? It just doesn’t reason to me.”

Alanah Odoms of the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana echoed that sentiment.

“Further restricting those exemptions and further limiting people to have access to absentee voting is really going in the absolute wrong direction,” Odoms said. “We believe this particular plan and others like it require citizens to choose between contracting a deadly disease or disenfranchisement.”