BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said Wednesday that he won’t be seeking to expand absentee-by-mail voting, increase the early voting period or enact a coronavirus emergency plan for the fall elections, amid the state’s latest COVID-19 surge.
Since the pandemic began, the state has offered more ways for people to absentee vote in a half-dozen elections — including last year’s presidential and congressional elections — and boosted the number of early voting days for some of those elections because of the risks of the coronavirus.
But Ardoin said he doesn’t intend to submit an emergency plan for the Oct. 9 and Nov. 13 elections to lawmakers and Gov. John Bel Edwards for consideration. He said only a tiny percentage of voters used the prior COVID-19 emergency rules to submit absentee ballots, and he said vaccines are widely available for those interested.
“Now that vaccinations are more prevalent than they were in the spring election, folks have a choice,” Ardoin said in an interview with The Associated Press. “They can vaccinate. They can mask up. They can do both. But we’re not going to be pursuing any emergency election plan at this time.”
The Republican elections chief said his office will continue to make sure that masks are available at polling places, that physical distancing is used when voters are waiting in line and that sanitation practices are followed.
Far lower turnout is expected for the fall elections than in last year’s presidential election, when 70% of Louisiana voters cast ballots.
The October ballot will have a proposal to overhaul Louisiana’s income tax structure, along with several special elections to fill vacant legislative seats and municipal elections in New Orleans, including the mayor’s race. The November election has runoffs as necessary. Early voting for the October election begins Sept. 25.
Ardoin noted that no COVID-19 outbreaks have been tied to polling places in prior elections, and he said he’s received “zero calls from any legislator” requesting an emergency election plan. Enactment of an emergency plan would require backing from the Democratic governor and the majority-GOP Legislature to take effect.
“The more folks every day that are getting vaccinated creates a more positive environment for everybody,” said Ardoin, who is fully inoculated against COVID-19.
Still, only about 40% of Louisiana’s population is fully immunized against the disease so far, according to state health department data. But that number has been rising as Louisiana has seen record-breaking numbers of people hospitalized from the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus.
Ardoin said he expects to see “people in the vulnerable population” keep using the absentee balloting process. While absentee-by-mail voting increased in recent elections, most mail-in votes were cast by people legally able to do so without the emergency rules.
Louisiana’s absentee balloting procedure is limited to voters 65 or older, members of the military, overseas voters, people who are hospitalized, the physically disabled and those who won’t be in their parish for the election.
Prior emergency rules had allowed people also to seek an absentee ballot if they were at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 because of medical conditions; were subject to a quarantine order; were advised by a health provider to self-quarantine; were experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking medical confirmation; or were caring for someone who is isolated because of the disease.