Mail-in ballots up for debate

By Paige Daniel and Abigail Hendren / LSU Manship School News Service

Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, left, proposes greater temporary use of mail-in ballots; State Sen. Barry Milligan, right, is concerned about expanding mail-in voting. Photo by Abbie Shull / LSU Manship School News Service
Mail-in Voting

BATON ROUGE — Three blue states —Washington, Oregon and Colorado —conduct all of their elections through mail-in votes and four red states — Wyoming, Montana, Utah and Alaska — are joining them this year in conducting their presidential primaries entirely through mail ballots.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, 28 other states have announced plans to increase access to absentee ballots or take other actions to keep voters from lining up at polling places.

Yet in deciding on Tuesday to delay Louisiana’s presidential primary to July 11, the Legislature insisted state election officials scale back plans to rely less on in-person voting and more on mail voting to reduce the health risks.

Republican legislators expressed concern that more mail-in ballots could increase the potential for voter fraud. National election experts have said there have been few instances of fraud as other states have expanded voting by mail. Some speculate once the risks from the virus ease, Louisiana could increase voter turnout if greater use of alternative voting methods are used.

Voter turnout in governor’s races in Louisiana declined steadily for decades, from 54 percent in 1979 to 31 percent in 2011 before rebounding to 51 percent in the fall, according to the Louisiana Secretary of State’s office. Turnout in presidential elections in Louisiana has stayed higher, at 55 to 60 percent of eligible voters, though voting-rights advocates fear it could slip this year if voters do not feel safe.

Voting by mail is “something we’ve thought was important for a while now, but with the current state of the world, we now believe it is not only important, but essential to the democratic process,” Catherine McKinney, the director of the Louisiana Vote-by-Mail initiative, said.

“Now it is not only easier but imperative to keeping our poll workers and our voters safe from a global pandemic,” she said.

Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, a Republican, and Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, agreed on an emergency election plan that would have made mail-in absentee ballots available in the presidential primary to anyone affected by the coronavirus or who did not want to vote in person for fear of catching it.

Sen. Barry Milligan, R-Shreveport, helped shoot down that plan at a hearing April 15, saying it was “extremely broad and basically covers everyone in Louisiana.”

“There is not an election cycle that goes through that we wake up to the news that votes are found in somebody’s garage or somebody’s truck,” Milligan said.