Advocates Reach Out to Sec. of State Ardoin About Emergency Election Plan for the Fall

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE–July 28, 2020

Advocates Reach Out to Sec. of State Ardoin About Emergency Election Plan for the Fall

Earlier today, more than 25 Louisiana advocacy organizations joined a letter that was sent to Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin asking for an Emergency Election Plan for the fall elections, and offering suggestions about what needs to be included in that plan.  

NEW ORLEANS, LA | July 28, 2020—Earlier this morning, the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice (PCEJ), Voice of the Experienced (VOTE), the NAACP Louisiana State Conference, and 25 other advocacy organizations sent a letter to Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin regarding his preparations for the upcoming November and December elections.

“Given the resurgence of COVID in our state, and the likelihood that it will still be in Louisiana through at least the end of 2020, we are concerned that Secretary Ardoin has yet to introduce another Emergency Election Plan,” said PCEJ Executive Director Ashley Shelton. “With this letter, we hope to jumpstart the process of developing that plan, and offer suggested ways to improve the plan that has been in effect in July and August in time for the fall. We hope Secretary Ardoin will consider these suggestions and take the lead on developing and implementing a plan that affords every Louisiana voter fair, free, safe, and healthy access to the vote during this pandemic.”

See the full letter here:


July 28, 2020

VIA ELECTRONIC MAIL

Kyle Ardoin
Secretary of State 
P.O. Box 94125
Baton Rouge, LA 70804-9125

Re: Urgent Need for November/December Emergency Election Plan

Dear Secretary Ardoin,

We, the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, NAACP Louisiana State Conference, Voice of the Experience (V.O.T.E.), and the 25 partner organizations listed at the bottom of this letter write to request that your office take immediate action to develop, advance, and publicize an election plan for the upcoming November and December elections in light of how the pandemic will most likely impact both voters and election officials.

As Louisiana’s chief elections officer, you are “charged with providing every opportunity…for individuals to exercise their right to vote.” As demonstrated during the recent Presidential Preference and Municipal Primary Elections, this duty cannot be fulfilled during a health crisis if all necessary measures are not taken to ensure that voters are able to vote and that poll workers and election officials are able to prepare for and administer elections safely. Particularly urgent are the extension of early voting opportunities and expansion of mail-in voting qualifications because these permit voters and election officials to participate in voting and carrying out elections under safer conditions.  The Emergency Election Plan in effect for the July and August elections omitted important measures to protect Louisiana voters, and at best offers a baseline of mechanisms that should at minimum remain in effect for the November and December elections. 

By every indication, Louisianans will have to continue to navigate elections amid a health crisis with life and death ramifications. As you are aware, by June 20, the first day of early voting in the recent primary elections, Louisiana had one of the highest rates of COVID-19 transmission in the country. By July 11, Election Day, Louisiana had one of the highest new case rates in the world. Currently, Louisiana’s death rate from the virus is, per capita, the seventh highest in the country, and the number of active cases, per capita, is the third highest in the country. There is consensus among experts that a vaccine for COVID-19 will not be available before the November and December elections.  COVID-19 is and will remain a threat to the health and safety of all Louisianans for months to come. 

Accordingly, within this context, your office must alert the public about how these critical health and safety considerations will inform the administration of elections in November and December of this year. This is particularly critical because of the strong likelihood that in a presidential general election, Louisiana voters will, as they have historically, seek to vote in substantial numbers. Action is necessary now to ensure the safety of voters and elections workers through these elections.

Changes to how Louisiana conducts early voting, Election Day voting, and vote-by-mail opportunities during the primary election season are necessary for voter participation. As your office reported, early in-person voter turnout for the July election exceeded 100,000 votes—a 30% increase compared to 2016, and ballots cast by mail more than quadrupled compared to 2016. Indeed, nearly 40% of the voters who cast a ballot during the July 11 election relied on early and absentee voting as a means to vote safely. 

Still, some voters were left without means of participating with the confidence of safety because the qualifications to vote by mail did not cover all voters at risk of contracting COVID-19 (indeed, all voters). Other voters who would have qualified under the Emergency Election Plan did not become symptomatic in time to request a ballot by the deadline. Many voters never received their ballot, nor were they provided with any remedies to participate other than showing up in person, putting their own health, and the health of their communities, at risk on Election Day.

Indeed, the Emergency Election Plan in effect for the July elections represented only a baseline for accommodations that should be in effect for Louisiana’s voters in November and December. We recommend that beyond pursuing an extension of the current plan, your office make these additional efforts to address some pressing gaps, including:

Expand Mail-in Voting Eligibility to All Voters: Any alleged skepticism about the enduring threat of the virus to the Louisiana public has been disproven—COVID-19 does not discriminate against whom it is transmitted to or when it is transmitted. All voters have a reasonable risk of contraction and should have a viable and safe alternative to in-person voting. 

Provide Public Guidance on Emergency Qualifications: If no-excuse absentee vote by mail is not offered, at minimum, the COVID-19-related excuses included in the Emergency Election Plan for July and August require more clarity. The categories on the COVID-19 Emergency Ballot Application are described in vague terms that have both confused and discouraged potentially eligible voters from requesting an absentee mail-in ballot, including voters with health conditions that are not explicitly delineated in the included categories. This is especially true because of the severe felony penalties for making false assertions to an election official that are emphasized in large, bolded font on the ballot application form. Eligible voters should be encouraged, not discouraged, to vote in the manner that protects not only their health but the health of their community. Accordingly, it is vital that you equip qualified voters with the information they need to confidently request an absentee ballot in compliance with the law. If only limited COVID-19 excuses are provided on any future emergency application, we suggest providing FAQ-style guidance on your website to assist potentially qualified voters in determining whether their individual circumstances qualify them to vote absentee under these excuses. In addition to the FAQ on website, any SOS publication (digital or paper) regarding voter eligibility for mail-in voting should reference the FAQ and offer a phone number as an alternative.

Extend the Absentee Request Deadline and Return Deadline: The current deadline to request an absentee ballot does not allow voters who experience symptoms of COVID-19 after the deadline any reasonable method to participate, since their arrival and presence at the polls would defy all personal and public health guidance. The deadline for ballots to be received the day before the election threatens to disenfranchise voters whose ballots are delayed due to no fault of their own, as was witnessed in the recent July elections. These deadlines should be extended by a minimum of two additional weeks, and your office should provide reasonable accommodations for the request and receipt of ballots under these circumstances.  

Remove the Witness Requirement: The requirement to have a witness sign a voter’s absentee ballot forces thousands of voters who live alone to defy social distancing guidance and provides no comparable benefit to election security. It should be removed.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for Louisianans. Yet with leadership in this moment, the state can work to achieve a successful and inclusive election administration. We implore you to act on the recommendations outlined above. 

We request an immediate reply indicating the status of your planning and intended course of action for the November and December elections, including whether the Emergency Election Plan will be extended or what accommodations will be made to early voting, in-person Election Day voting, and voting by mail by Thursday, July 30, 2020. Thank you for your attention to this pressing matter.

Sincerely,

Ashley Shelton
Executive Director
The Power Coalition for Equity and Justice

Dr. Michael W. McClanahan
State President
NAACP Louisiana State Conference

Norris Henderson
Executive Director
Voice of the Experienced (VOTE)

Signatory organizations

American Association of University Women—Louisiana
ACLU of Louisiana
Fair Districts Louisiana
Families & Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children
Greater New Orleans Housing Authority 
Hadassah New Orleans
HousingNOLA 
HousingLOUISIANA
Independent Women’s Organization
Louisiana Budget Project
Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights
Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center
Louisiana Partnership for Children and Families
Louisiana Progress
National Birth Equity Collaborative
National Council of Jewish Women – Greater New Orleans Section
New Leaders Council-Louisiana
New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice
NOW, LOVE
Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC)
Orleans Public Defenders
Orleans Public Education Network
Step Up Louisiana
Together Louisiana
VAYLA New Orleans 

The Power Coalition for Equity and Justice works to build voice and power in traditionally ignored communities. We are a coalition of groups from across Louisiana whose mission is to organize in impacted communities, educate and turn out voters, and fight for policies that create a more equitable and just system in Louisiana.

Who: Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, Voice of the Experienced, NAACP Louisiana State Conference, American Association of University Women—Louisiana, ACLU of Louisiana, Fair Districts Louisiana, Families & Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children, Greater New Orleans Housing Authority, Hadassah New Orleans, HousingNOLA, HousingLOUISIANA, Independent Women’s Organization, Louisiana Budget Project, Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights, Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center, Louisiana Partnership for Children and Families, Louisiana Progress, National Birth Equity Collaborative, National Council of Jewish Women – Greater New Orleans Section, New Leaders Council-Louisiana, New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, NOW, LOVE, Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition, Orleans Public Defenders, Orleans Public Education Network, Step Up Louisiana, Together Louisiana, VAYLA New Orleans

What: Advocates send letter to Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin regarding Emergency Election Plan for November and December elections.

When: July 28, 2020

Contacts:

Ashley Shelton, Executive Director, Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, (225) 802-2435, ashelton@powercoalition.org

Peter Robins-Brown, Communications Director, Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, (504) 256-8196, prb@powercoalition.org