BREAKING: LA Legislature Allows Vote by Mail for Legislators, but not for Most Louisianians

As the public health demands of coronavirus require us to do more from our homes, the Louisiana State Legislature just agreed to allow for mail-in ballots – for its legislators, that is. 

Last week, the Louisiana House and Committee on Governmental Affairs and Senate Governmental Affairs Committee denied Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin’s plan to expand vote-by-mail access across the state to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Conservatives in the committees cited an increased risk of fraud, which is not based in fact.

Today, however, the same committees both approved a measure to expand absentee ballot access on a limited basis. The plan now moves to the floors of the Louisiana State House and Senate – who will vote on the measure by mail. 

Representative Mandie Landry, whose universal mail-in ballot bill remains in the Committee on House and Governmental Affairs, excoriated her colleagues as hypocritical. 

This news comes less than a day after news broke that at least 19 cases of coronavirus were the result of Wisconsin’s decision to hold in-person elections despite public health warnings. Yesterday, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that a second wave of coronavirus could be deadlier than the current one.

While most Louisianians will still be expected to risk their health in order to vote on July 11 and August 15, the plan, if approved from the safety of the legislators’ homes, would expand mail-in voter access to some who live in the state. These new criteria include people who:

  • Have a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19. These include chronic lung disease, asthma, heart conditions, diabetes, kidney or liver disease, and immune deficiencies. 
  • Are subject to a quarantine or isolation order due to COVID-19. 
  • Are advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine or are experiencing symptoms. 
  • Are caring for an individual who is subject to a quarantine or who has been advised to self-quarantine. 

The plan expands early voting from seven to 13 days and also will remove polling places from nursing homes across the state.

The emergency plan will not allow people who are asymptomatic to vote by mail. Studies have shown that individuals infected with coronavirus may be the most infectious right before symptoms of the virus start appearing. Because over half of the state’s poll workers are older than 65, they would risk the most serious complications from contact with an infected voter.

The Centers for Disease Control has encouraged that states use mail-in ballots instead of relying on in-person voting. Louisiana has the 9th highest rate of infection, the 4th highest per capita rate of infection, and the 6th highest per capita death rate in the nation.

Despite this, some legislators were opposed to offering this basic aid to voters. “Everybody else is thinking that this is going to go away . . . that this is going to take care of itself,” said Representative Rodney Schamerhorn, a Republican who voted against the measure. 

The hypocrisy of requiring Louisiana citizens to risk exposure to the coronavirus while allowing legislators to vote on bills by mail was not lost on some. 

“If our legislators can vote by mail, why can’t you?” the Louisiana Vote-By-Mail campaign tweeted.

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