By Sydney McGovern
LSU Manship School News Service
A bill to extend early voting from seven to 10 days during presidential elections was approved unanimously by a House committee Wednesday, March 5. And one week later, on May 12, was overwhelmingly passed by the state House with 91 “yes” votes and seven “no” votes. As of May 13, the bill has been referred to the Committee on Senate and Governmental Affairs.
Rep. Frederick Jones, D-Monroe, offered his bill after the record voter turnout in the 2020 presidential election. Louisiana saw over 2.1 million people vote in November, and 986,000 of them voted early in-person.
The bill originally extended early voting for every election, but after financial concerns from the registrars of voters, Jones limited the bill to presidential elections. The extension of early voting comes with a price tag of $400,000 to the state, including pay for poll workers.
Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin noted that while early voting provides a great convenience to voters, extending this period for every election would come with challenges for his office and the registrars.
Limiting the bill to presidential elections also allows for more time to adjust election timelines.
“By making it a specific election and only for that election, it doesn’t give us the heartburn that any further expansion would,” Ardoin said. “For any consideration of future expansion, we will need more time between elections, and we will have to pull back the calendar earlier in the year.”
John Couvillon, founder of JMC Analytics and Polling, spoke in favor of the bill, saying that since early voting was introduced in Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it has succeeded fantastically.
“Before early voting was introduced, you basically had 97 percent of the electorate voting on election day, so you were shoehorning nearly twonmillion voters into one day’s worth of voting,” Couvillon said. “Given the fact that we expanded early voting, the proverbial, ‘If you build it, they will come’ certainly happened last year,” he added.
The first presidential election in which early voting was used in Louisiana was in 2008 with 15% of Louisianans participating. That number significantly increased in each presidential election since, to 18% of all voters in 2012 and 26 percent in 2016.
Early in-person voting expanded to 14 days in the November election because of the temporary emergency voting plan under the COVID-19 pandemic, and a record 46 percent of Louisianans chose to vote early.
That early-voting period has since returned to the normal seven days, but with a permanent extension of early voting, legislators hope to maintain a high turnout.
Compared to other states, Louisiana stands relatively in the middle of early voting availability. Some states like Alabama and Mississippi don’t offer early voting. In Wyoming, Michigan and New Jersey, residents can begin voting as early as 45 days before election day.
Rep. Jeremy S. LaCombe, D-Livonia, said he is a proponent of early voting but recognizes problems with limited early voting locations in his rural parish. Pointe Coupee Parish includes nearly 600 square miles but houses only one early polling location in New Roads.
“There are plenty of parishes where the only location is the seat, it’s in the courthouse, and for some folks, it’s very, very difficult to get 40, 50, 60 miles,” said LaCombe. “You just don’t see them early voting.”
LaCombe hopes that the secretary of state can provide for more early voting polling locations in rural parishes along with the expansion of days.
“The ultimate goal of everything that we do when it comes to elections is to get more people to the polls to go vote, so if we’re shifting those people from election day to early voting, that’s a matter of convenience,” said Rep. Les Farnum, R- Sulphur.