Judge orders expanded mail-in voting in Louisiana for presidential election

Voting changes for 2020 in Louisiana
Mail-in voting applications.
Mail-in voting applications. (Source: WVUE)

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - A federal judge has ordered the state of Louisiana to reinstate emergency coronavirus voting plans used for this summer’s elections for the upcoming November 3 presidential election. Those plans allowed voters to give more reasons for seeking an absentee ballot.

Judge Shelley Dick said people with medical conditions that make COVID-19 more dangerous to them and their caretakers must be allowed to vote absentee if they desire to do so.

Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin had earlier presented a plan for the November and December elections that only allowed people who test positive for COVID-19 close to the election to apply for a mail-in ballot. Of course, the state has other allowed reasons for seeking an absentee ballot that do not pertain to the pandemic, including being away at college, working offshore, being 65 or older, or being hospitalized.

Ardoin issued the following statement after the judge’s ruling:

“We have received and are currently reviewing Judge Dick’s ruling. A decision as to how to proceed will be made after careful consideration of the facts is weighed with the fact that absentee voting is currently underway for some voters, and early voting mere weeks away.”

Citizens and voting rights groups who sued the state over limitations on mail-in voting have argued for months that people that have concerns about going to a polling place amid the pandemic should not be forced to leave the safety of their homes to have their voices heard in the presidential election or any election.

This week a panel of experts assembled by SciLine and the EPI Center discussed the logistics of in-person voting this year, the potential impacts of a surge in mail-in ballots, and maintaining the integrity of elections.

Dr. Nathaniel Persily, an attorney who teaches at Stanford University’s School of Law, says while each state has different laws, voters should be able to track absentee ballots they mail.

“There are several technologies that are available to track the mail ballot through the system, through the postal system,” said Persily.

Dr. Bridgett King teaches political science at Auburn University. She pointed to available guidelines to help states choose polling places that limit exposure to the virus.

“The selection of polling places with really high ceilings, increasing ventilation in the polling location,” said King.

While there are concerns about the U.S. Postal Service being able to handle a flood of mail ballots, Persily said no one should vote by mail and also in-person over fears their absentee ballot will not get to elections officials in time.

“The answer to that is first of all that, that’s a crime,” said Persily.

Dr. J. Alex Halderman, a computer scientist who has studied voting machines used across the country said hackers are becoming very sophisticated and will target voting machines.

“In virtually every case where independent scientists have had access, we’ve found that it would be possible for attackers to install malicious software on voting machines and actually change the election totals that they report. That’s virtually every case,” said Halderman.

He said paper ballots are a safer bet.

“Our best defense against this is that many voting machines today produce a paper trail, a record of the voters' intent that can’t later be changed in a cyber-attack,” said Halderman. “With modern optical scan voting systems, we have a good defense against that which is that every ballot is initially counted by scanning it into a computer, so you have two records of each vote.”

A spokesman for Secretary of State Ardoin said Louisiana’s elections process is safe and secure and voting machines in Louisiana are never connected to the internet and have no capacity to do so. Also, he said machines are stored by the state and arrive at local polling places with tamper-proof seals.

However, the S.O.S. office spokesman said Louisiana does not yet have the so-called Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail. Further, he said the office was in the beginning phases of securing new voting machines earlier this year when the pandemic struck.

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