BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit challenging Louisiana’s emergency plan for its July presidential primary and August municipal elections, a plan written in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The emergency plan — crafted by Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin and approved by state lawmakers in April — increased early voting by six days and expanded mail-in balloting options for some people at higher risk to the virus.
Two separate lawsuits filed in Baton Rouge federal court argued the plan didn’t go far enough to protect people from the virus. U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick disagreed in a decision issued Monday that dismissed the consolidated lawsuits and upheld the plan.
“The court rejects plaintiffs’ contention that they are being ‘forced to choose’ between their health and voting,” Dick wrote.
The 13-day early voting period for the July 11 presidential primary is ongoing, running through July 4. Applications for mail-in ballots are due by July 7.
Dick said while the public health emergency caused by the virus isn’t over, Gov. John Bel Edwards has reopened much of the state in consultation with public health experts and deemed conditions “sufficiently safe” to perform certain activities if people take precautions.
The judge wrote in her decision that the lawsuits’ plaintiffs “fail to adequately allege that there has been, or will be, an impairment of the right to vote attributable to state action.”
“The potential presence of the virus in their polling place is not a legal impairment of their right; it is an epidemiological reality to which state officials have responded, not by impairing voting rights, but by expanding them,” Dick wrote.
Growing fears about the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus twice prompted postponement of the Louisiana presidential primary that had been set for April 4 and a municipal election originally planned for May 9.
Louisiana’s traditional absentee balloting procedure is limited to people who are 65 or older, members of the military, overseas voters, people who are hospitalized and people who won’t be in their parish for the election.
The emergency plan lets people seek an absentee-by-mail ballot for the July and August elections if they attest on an application that they are at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 because of certain medical conditions; are subject to a quarantine or isolation 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 quarantined or isolated because of the disease.
The federal lawsuits against Edwards, Ardoin and several registrars of voters were filed by the League of Women Voters of Louisiana, Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, the Louisiana conference of the NAACP, Crescent City Media Group and individual voters.
They argued that the availability of mail-in ballots was too restrictive and objected to the requirement that a witness sign the mail-in ballot request form.
The emergency plan being used for the summer elections was Ardoin’s second draft after Republicans stalled the first draft because they objected to the more expansive use of mail-in ballots the GOP secretary of state recommended. Edwards, a Democrat, supported the first proposal and backed the rewritten version as well.
By MELINDA DESLATTE Associated Press