Louisiana voters have become accustomed to getting complete results on election night, but that may not be the case for the Nov. 3 presidential election because of expanded mail-in voting.
During the 2016 presidential election, about 63,000 voters asked for mail-in ballots, but registrars of voters around the state are reporting that about 185,000 mail-in ballots have already been requested ahead of the Oct. 30 deadline.
The state’s Republican legislators didn’t want to have the vote in the coming elections under the same coronavirus pandemic rules used on July 11 and Aug. 15, but a federal district judge ruled otherwise. She again opened up mail-in voting for those affected by COVID-19, the coronavirus pandemic disease.
The pandemic has changed life as we used to know it, and expanded voting by mail is one of those changes. Normally, mail-in voting is restricted to those 65 or older, others serving in the military, voters who will be temporarily absent from their parish on voting day, students away at college and those in nursing homes and hospitals.
In July and August, voters could seek an absentee (mailin) ballot if they were at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 because of underlying medical conditions.
Others could get a mail-in ballot if they were subject to a quarantine order, were experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking medical confirmation or were caring for someone who was isolated because of the virus.
Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards was the primary defendant in the federal suit, but he wanted the earlier COVID-19 election rules to apply during the upcoming elections.
Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin could have appealed the judge’s decision to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, but wisely decided it was time to get ready for the Nov. 3 and Dec. 5 elections. He can still appeal that court decision later.
“I and the voters deserve certainty,” Ardoin told The Advocate/The Times Picayune. “My staff, the clerks (of court) and the (voter) registrars and their staff need to know how we’re conducting this election. And for us, we’re conducting this election in accordance with what the judge ruled and current law.”
Ardoin added, “I got an election to put on and not much time to do so.”
Voters now know that they can early vote between Oct. 16 and Oct. 27 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., except on Sundays. And those affected by COVID-19 know they can get a mail-in ballot.
Although the expanded reasons for getting mail-in ballots are legitimate, Ardoin said the increased number of mail-in ballots will slow the vote count, and he confirmed that some results may not be known on election night. The results could be delayed for a few days.
It comes as no surprise that Republicans on the state House and Senate committees that have to approve election procedures insisted voters would be safe from the virus if they voted in person at the polling places. They are echoing views expressed by President Donald Trump and others that mail-in voting opens up the possibility of election fraud.
The Associated Press reported Saturday that Mark Meadows, the president’s chief of staff, chided FBI Director Christopher Wray over voter fraud remarks he made to Congress a day earlier. Meadows said Wray was ill informed when he said there hasn’t been any significant, coordinated national voter fraud.
Wray told the Senate Homeland Security Committee that the FBI takes “all election-related threats seriously,” including voter fraud or voter suppression.
“Now, we have not seen, historically, any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it’s by mail or otherwise,” Wray said. “We have seen voter fraud at the local level from time to time.”
Meadows said, “Well, with all due respect to Director Wray, he has a hard time finding e-mails in his own FBI, let alone figuring out whether there is any kind of voter fraud.”
In my experience in covering Louisiana elections for nearly 60 years, I can remember only one major case of election fraud in Southwest Louisiana. It involved voters being paid to cast votes for a particular candidate. Only those who handed out the money were convicted.
The Brennan Center for Justice in “The Truth About Voter Fraud,” said, “Politicians at all levels of government have repeatedly, and falsely, claimed the 2016 and 2018 elections were marred by millions of people voting illegally. However, extensive research reveals that fraud is very rare, voter impersonation is virtually nonexistent, and many instances of alleged fraud are, in fact, mistakes by voters or administrators.
“The same is true for mail ballots, which are secure and essential to holding a safe election amid the coronavirus pandemic.”
The center said in its report that most allegations of fraud turn out to be baseless and that most of the other allegations reveal irregularities and other forms of election misconduct. The legitimate cases of election fraud are, in most cases, of a local nature.
Louisiana’s Nov. 3 election results could be delayed because of a large number of mail-in ballots, but election fraud isn’t expected to be a problem.