FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE–August 4, 2020
Louisiana Unemployed Power Coalition for Equity and Justice Joins NAACP Election Lawsuit
Yesterday, Monday, August 3, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Covington and Burling, LLP filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, the Louisiana State Conference of the NAACP, and three individual voters challenging Louisiana’s restrictions on mail-in voting and early voting for the November and December elections.
NEW ORLEANS, LA | August 4, 2020—With a little more than 90 days to go before the November 3 election, and no Emergency Election Plan in place in Louisiana, the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice (PCEJ), the Louisiana State Conference of the NAACP, and three individual Louisiana voters all felt like we had no choice but to take legal action. Fortunately, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and the law firm Covington and Burling, LLP, understood our concerns, and their immediacy, and filed suit on our behalf in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana.
“The fact that Louisiana recently became the state with the highest per capita COVID-19 infection rate in the country, yet hasn’t moved forward with a plan for safe elections in the fall is frightening,” said PCEJ Executive Director Ashley Shelton. “We can’t continue to pretend that this virus is going to magically disappear, especially as it relates to the way we conduct our elections. Ensuring that every voter can cast a ballot without worrying about getting sick or even dying should be the top priority for every elected official in Louisiana. It’s certainly our top priority at the Power Coalition.”
“Black people comprise over 50% of the deaths resulting from COVID-19 in Louisiana, but are only 32% of the state’s population,” said LDF Senior Counsel Catherine Meza. “The state’s refusal to protect its voters during this very real and very dangerous pandemic will disproportionately affect Black voters. We hope Louisiana will put the correct precautions in place to ensure every voter can cast a ballot and stay safe.”
Back in the spring, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin proposed an emergency election plan for the July 11 and August 15 elections, which included expanded mail-in voting and early voting. His first proposal was shot down by members of the Senate & Governmental Affairs Committee, largely based on Republican objections to the expanded vote-by-mail accommodations. That forced Sec. Ardoin to go back to the drawing board and return a week later with a second version, which included stripped down mail-in voting expansion. That version was passed by the full legislature. Now, with the virus still plaguing our state, Sec. Ardoin has yet to get the ball rolling on an Emergency Election Plan for the fall.
The NAACP and PCEJ are focused on four measures that we would like to see included in an Emergency Election Plan for November and December:
- Expand Mail-in Voting Eligibility to All Voters
All voters have a reasonable risk of contracting COVID-19, 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
- 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.
- 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.
Our concerns are driven by our dedication to civic engagement and voting. We want everyone in Louisiana to vote, and we want them to be informed, confident and, above all, safe and healthy while doing so. Implementing an Emergency Election Plan with the above measures would go a long way toward accomplishing those goals.
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, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Louisiana State Conference of the NAACP
What: Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, Louisiana State Conference of the NAACP, three individual voters join safe election lawsuit filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund
When: August 4, 2020
Ashley Shelton, Executive Director, Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, (225) 802-2435, firstname.lastname@example.org
Peter Robins-Brown, Communications Director, Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, (504) 256-8196, email@example.com