N.O. city council sues the secretary of state over drop-off locations for absentee ballots; judge issues TRO

Absentee and Ballot Drop Box Fight
A sample ballot.
A sample ballot. (Source: Live 5)

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - City Council members voted on Wednesday (Oct. 14) to sue Louisiana’s Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin over drop-off locations for absentee ballots. They say Ardoin is misinterpreting the law regarding such locations and is also engaging in voter suppression and hours later a judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking Ardoin from limiting the drop-off locations.

City Council Vice President Helena Moreno authored the motion authorizing the lawsuit and her six colleagues signed on as co-sponsors.

“Nobody wants to end up in court, nobody wants to go take on the secretary of state but at the same time we are not going to be bullied by a secretary of state,” said Moreno.

The council voted unanimously during a virtual meeting to have its executive counsel file the suit in Orleans Parish Civil District Court over limitations on the number of drop-off locations for people in New Orleans who have absentee ballots.

Moreno said the council recently learned the number of locations would be severely limited by Ardoin compared to what Registrar Sandra Wilson had planned for the November presidential election.

“So, we were incredibly disappointed to find out and contacted at the end of September to be informed that the secretary of state would not be allowing our Orleans registrar of voters to have multiple locations around the city, that she would only be able to have these curbside drop-off locations at her office and also possibly at the Algiers satellite office and that’s it,” said Moreno.

Council members said the sites around the city would have been staffed by the registrar’s office personnel.

Council President Jason Williams said he could not excuse the latest development related to the secretary of state.

“It is really difficult to look at the latest decision by the secretary of state merely as incidental when just last month on National Voter Registration Day the secretary of state’s website was down for scheduled maintenance,” said Williams.

The council said during the COVID-19 pandemic voting should be more flexible especially for people concerned about contracting the virus.

“It’s very important as elected officials to work on behalf of all of our constituents regardless of who they support to have access to safe and reliable means of voting,” said Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer.

The lawsuit comes as city government is strapped for revenues due to the impact the pandemic is having on the economy.

Williams noted the timing of the city having to spend money on litigation.

“It is a shame that the precious resources we have left in this city will need to be spent pursuing this lawsuit, however, we simply cannot afford not to take action,” said Williams.

Council members said they are forced to challenge Ardoin in court.

“This is voter suppression in its purest form, that is why this is being done to discourage people from going and we got to make sure that people don’t get discouraged,” said Councilman Jay Banks.

The presidential election is on November 3.

Ardoin issued the following statement in response to the council’s action.

"It has never been easier to vote in Louisiana, even amid a global pandemic, and the Louisiana election code is very clear on how an absentee ballot can be returned. L.A. 18:1308(B) states: “The ballot shall be marked as provided in R.S. 18:1310 and returned to the registrar by the United States Postal Service, a commercial courier, or hand delivery.”

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