Bill to make counting absentees faster, allow teens in voting booths


BATON ROUGE — A House committee advanced a bill Thursday to extend the time to prepare and verify absentee ballots prior to election day.


It also advanced a bill that may soon allow your teenager to accompany you in the voting booth.


Both bills were written by Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria. The bill involving teens would permit children up to 15 years old to enter voting machines. Present law allows parents to bring only a pre-teen child into the booth.


Harris’ other bill would allow parishes, with permission from the secretary of state, to process mail-in and early voting ballots starting three days before election day.


“The changes would provide more time and attention to the verification process and ensure, as we’ve seen in some of these past elections, that the results would be reported timely, hopefully on election night,” Harris said.


Current state law permits parishes to conduct the verification process for absentee ballots the day before an election. The absentee ballots are not counted until election day, but Harris hopes that by preparing the ballots sooner, parishes can certify election results more quickly.


This bill comes in the wake of the November presidential election in which news organizations did not project the winner for three days as some states still counted their absentee ballots.


Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said the bill would not change the final date to accept absentee ballots. They still must be received by 4:30 p.m. the day before an election.


Ardoin said that the extra time would allow the registrars of voters to accurately count mail-in ballots on primary or general-election days without delays.


“What they’re doing is verifying each person that requests a ballot and if that ballot was returned, and they’re verifying the information on the flap,” he said. “But it’s held for counting — no tabulation–until election day.”


Rep. Valarie Hodges, a Republican from Denham Springs, moved to vote the bill favorably with no objections. It will advance to the House floor.


Harris said that in raising the age for children to accompany their parents into voting booths, “we would be teaching the younger generation the election process and increase their level of participation once they reach the voting age of 18.”


Rep. Foy Gadberry, R-West Monroe, raised concerns that verifying a child’s age could complicate the voting process, but Harris said election officials could reasonably guess a child’s age.


Members of the House Committee on House and Governmental Affairs expressed enthusiasm for the bill before advancing it unanimously to the House floor. Rep. Candace Newell, D-New Orleans said that it is a joy to see children excited about the election process.


“I remember the first time I ever stepped into a voting machine was in elementary school, and we got to vote on our fifth-grade class representative,” said Newell. “It just was exciting to see that my little button press could do something bigger.”


Jennifer Miranda of Ambitious Parents and Children of Louisiana said that as a stay-at-home mom, she appreciates bringing her children to vote. Miranda also spoke about her husband’s voting experience as a recently naturalized United States citizen.


“He was terrified to go in by himself because he had never done this before,” she said. “It was a wonderful thing for our family of four to go in and vote together, and this provides lots of opportunities for more voter turnout.”


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