When the Louisiana Legislature starts its session on Monday, April 12, there will be more than a dozen bills already prefiled that deal with elections and voting. Some are good. For instance, state Rep. Fed Jones’ HB 286 would extend early voting. And state Rep. Ted James’ HB 286 would extend the three minute rule — the time voters are allowed to make their choices inside the booth.
Some seem pointless. State Sen. Lance Harris wants to increase the age of children who can be present in the voting booth with a voter to 15. The current law sets the age limit at a vague “preteen”. So specifically defining and setting it at 15 doesn’t appear to do any harm. And it likely won’t make a huge difference. Seriously, have you tried to get a 15 year old to go anywhere that didn’t involve shopping, eating or a gang of their friends?
Then there are others — dangerous micro aggressions against voting rights. These are the ones that give is pause. State Sen. Sharon Hewitt’s SB 63 would require absentee ballots to be delivered to a registrar of voters employee instead of postmarked and delivered by mail. State Sen. Hewitt also wants to define and redefine voting machines and outline a litany of requirements for their procurement and evaluation—a bill that clearly seeks to further the already debunked narrative about malfunctioning or compromised voting machines promulgated by Trump and his followers. There is even one that would require the Secretary of State to canvass the voter rolls more than once a year, and another that would require parish registrar of voters to compare their lists of voters with local utility companies’ customer information in an attempt to hound (and ultimately purge) voters who have moved but failed to update their voter registration to their new address. Yep, you read that right.
These are just a few examples. We will dig deeper in our April edition as we take a comprehensive look at voter suppression here and across the nation. But rwe are prepared to say right now: While not one of the Republicans in the state legislature will admit it, almost all of these proposed bills are connected to voter suppression.
Recently, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin announced the formation of the Louisiana Commission on Election Integrity and Voting. The statement read:
“Despite the challenges brought on by natural disasters and a global pandemic, the 2020 Presidential election in Louisiana was free from controversy as seen in other states around the country,” Ardoin said. “With a record turnout of 70.1 percent in approximately 4,000 precincts across the state, our results were fully uploaded just after midnight.
In the months since the Presidential election, despite being a national leader in election administration, questions have been raised regarding the integrity of Louisiana’s election processes and procedures by voters concerned with stories of voting issues in other parts of the country.”
The bipartisan commission will be tasked with providing “an overview of our election processes”, while also answering a series of rather inexact and vague questions about how to assure continued confidence in elections, combat voter fatigue and improve voters’ experiences.
Well, we will start this process by making it abundantly clear that passing out water to voters waiting in line helps fatigued voters and definitely improves the experience, so let’s not follow Georgia.
In fact, we are just a bit uncertain as to why this commission is needed in the first place. Voting should be an uncomplicated process—easy, convenient and fast. And anything that can be done to make it that way is good. Anything that makes it harder, less convenient and more complicated is bad.
Ardoin’s own announcement actually points out that Louisiana voters are confident in their election processes. So why is the narrative being muddied by the creation of a commission that just is not needed. Forgive us for not being excited about having a Republican Secretary of State create an election integrity commission in an environment where Republicans across the nation at the highest levels have made false and egregious allegations of voter fraud to fuel their own desire to make voting more difficult for Black, Latinx and other marginalized communities. Currently, at least 250 new laws have been proposed in 43 states to limit mail, early in-person, and Election Day voting. And let’s not forget that the Jan. 6 insurrection at our nation’s capitol was fueled by outrageously false voter fraud claims. Of course, we all watched in horror as the Georgia Legislature passed the most restrictive voting legislation since Jim Crow, with strict voter ID requirements, a shorter window for requesting absentee ballots, along with measures that make it more difficult to extend voting hours and find access to a ballot drop off location. And those are just a few of the problems with the law passed under the guise of ensuring election integrity.
So we will ask again: Why do we need this commission? Why do we need most of these proposed bills? Whatever the reason, just know that we will be watching and we will not sit by and allow voters to be disenfranchised in Louisiana—not by the Sec. Ardoin, not by his Commission and not by the state legislature.
According to a press release announcing the formation of Commission, “the commission will be made up of a diverse group of experts in the fields of election administration, cybersecurity and technology, and business and industry. Former state Rep. Quentin Dastugue will chair the commission. Dastugue is a former four-term member of the Louisiana House of Representatives; elected as a Democrat to the House in 1979 and 1983 from the 82nd District in Old Jefferson. He began his second term in 1984 as a Republican, after switching parties.
The commission will begin meeting after the conclusion of the 2021 regular legislative session, and will issue their final report to Secretary Ardoin no later than February 1, 2022. And we will be watching…