‘We’re overflowing’: Why Louisiana’s election commissioner doubts state could handle more mail ballots

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BATON ROUGE, La. (WVLA/WGMB) — Louisiana’s election commissioner told a federal court Wednesday that expanding mail-in ballot access this fall could delay vote counts by days.

Commissioner Sherri Wharton Hadskey, who works for Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, made her argument as a judge considers whether to overturn Ardoin’s pandemic election plan for the Nov. 3 election. The plan limits expansion of absentee voting only to voters who test positive for COVID-19 between early voting and Election Day.

Hadskey testified that the expansion her boss proposed is about the most the state could handle.

“Each one of those ballots has to be looked at, opened, the flaps confirmed,” she said. “The milk jug is full. We’re overflowing.”

Hadskey cited a steep rise in absentee ballot requests, with roughly 169,000 voters applying this year.

“Our current state is not set up to process that mass volume and do it accurately and efficiently in that short timeframe,” she said.

Plaintiffs — namely the NAACP’s Louisiana chapter and the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice — want a broader plan amid concerns that Election Day crowds could spread the virus. Gov. John Bel Edwards has hinted Ardoin’s plan would leave voters choosing between their health and their voice.

“Are they going to unnecessarily expose themselves or others to the virus in contravention of [CDC] guidelines, or are they going to forfeit their right to vote?” Edwards asked at a news conference Tuesday.

Edwards’ memorandum asks U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick to revive Ardoin’s election plan from summer, which temporarily gave mail-in voting access to those with COVID-19 symptoms, higher health risks, and those quarantined or self-isolating.

But Hadskey argued that fall ballots lure far more voters than summer ones — especially in presidential election years — and warned against reviving the summer absentee expansions.

Dick could issue her ruling within days. She instructed attorneys to submit closing briefs by midday Thursday.

The federal ruling would not affect Louisiana’s pre-pandemic criteria for mail-in voting. Voters 65 or older — as well as those with disabilities, in the military, overseas, hospitalized or out-of-parish for Election Day — will still be able to cast absentee votes with permission.

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