Voting rights group reacts to Edwards taking on secretary of state in court over mail-in voting

Updated: Sep. 3, 2020 at 6:37 PM CDT
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A voter places a mail-in ballot into an envelope.
A voter places a mail-in ballot into an envelope.(Source: WVUE)

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - A group suing Louisiana over limitations on absentee or mail-in voting reacted to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ decision to push for expanded absentee voting in court.

Edwards filed a memorandum in a federal lawsuit brought by the NAACP and the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice involving COVID-19 protections for the November 3 presidential election. Edwards asked Baton Rouge federal Judge Shelley Dick to direct Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin to implement the same emergency election plan that was used for the recent July and August elections in the state.

Peter Robins-Brown is with the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, one of the organizations suing the state.

“We’re always happy when people in power who have some ability to, you know, make these important decisions, you know, agree with our position, the governor is technically named in the lawsuit, so there are certain aspects that I can speak to and can’t speak to just based on that,” said Robins-Brown.

The emergency election plan Ardoin put in place for the state’s two elections this summer provided more COVID-19 related excuses registered voters could offer when applying for an absentee or mail-in ballot. But the plan Ardoin offered for the November and December elections scales back most of the coronavirus excuses voters can utilize and Edwards and voting rights advocates strongly oppose that.

Robins-Brown said the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice is always ready to fight to protect voting rights.

“Given the pandemic, you know, a lot of people are afraid rightfully so. We knew that we needed to do everything we could to make sure that people were able to vote and do it safely and do it without fear and so our goal is to expand that voting access as much as we possibly can,” he said.

A section of the governor’s legal memorandum says, “Governor Edwards joins in the Plaintiffs’ request that this court enjoin the maintenance of statutory limitations on who can vote absentee by mail and the reduction of the early voting period for the November and December 2020 elections to extend the ability to vote by mail to voters with underlying conditions that make them acutely vulnerable to serious illness or death as a result of COVID 19.”

Ardoin’s proposed emergency plan for the fall elections allows voters who test positive for the coronavirus around the time of the election to apply for a mail-in ballot. But Edwards says that does not go far enough given that thousands of people have underlying health conditions that could put them at risk for severe illness if they contract COVID-19.

Last month Ardoin presented his plan to state lawmakers. He said he fashioned a plan he believed could win the legislature’s approval. The legislature is controlled by Republicans.

Democrats in the legislature and in Congress say mail-in voting should be expanded for the November election which is expected to attract large numbers of voters as the pandemic persists but President Trump and many Republicans say expanding absentee voting could result in fraud.

“My position here today is to deal with the logistics of an election not the politics of a pandemic and I have said that over and over again, politics in a pandemic don’t mix,” Ardoin told members of a legislative panel the middle of last month.

Edwards said in a tweet in announcing his memorandum that Louisianans should not have to risk their lives to vote.

“It’s unfortunate that something as fundamental to our country as just going to vote has become a political football,” said Robins-Brown.

Ardoin issued a statement on the same day Edwards filed his memorandum. Ardoin said because the governor declined to endorse the emergency election plan he put forth the citizens of Louisiana will not have for the November and December elections an additional three days of early voting and extended polling hours for early voting.

Read Ardoin’s statement:

In order for Ardoin’s plan to take effect both the governor and the legislature must approve it and Edwards opposes it.

Robins-Brown was asked if he is confident the federal court will rule in time to have a decision on mail-in balloting in the state before the presidential election.

“Other states got way out in front of this, so you know, in terms of am I confident I don’t know. It’s where we are though and the judge will do what is right,” he said.

He said if they could achieve what they want any voter who desires to vote absentee would be allowed to do so.

“The dream would be for, you know, everybody, for there to be vote-by-mail available to anybody who wants it to expand early voting, to add polling locations,” said Robins-Brown.

He said two days of hearings on the suit are set for next week in federal court.

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