FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE–July 15, 2020
Power Coalition’s July 11 Louisiana Election Report
Louisiana’s twice-delayed Presidential Primary elections, which finally took place this past Saturday, July 11, were a test of how well the state can conduct elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. The results indicate we have a lot of work to do.
NEW ORLEANS, LA | July 15, 2020—The Presidential Primary election that took place in Louisiana this past Saturday, July 11, which also featured several local races on ballots across the state, really began back at the beginning of 2020. Originally scheduled for April 4, the election was delayed twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and led to a political and legal fight that went on for months.
The crux of the debates over how to administer the election–both the one that took place this past Saturday and the Runoff that is scheduled for August 15–centered on how (or whether) to expand early voting and vote-by-mail. There were also concerns about being able to hire and train enough poll workers, since many poll workers are older and are thus more susceptible to COVID-19.
These issues came to a head in April in May at the State Capitol, as Gov. John Bel Edwards, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle battled over two different versions of Ardoin’s Emergency Election Plan, as well as multiple bills to expand vote-by-mail to all registered voters in Louisiana. Ultimately, early voting was extended by one week and vote-by-mail was only extended to some people who are affected by COVID-19. It also led to multiple lawsuits arguing that the plan didn’t go far enough in ensuring that every Louisianan would be able to vote safely.
“The Power Coalition for Equity and Justice (PCEJ–http://powercoalition.org) joined four Louisiana residents in filing a lawsuit, where we were represented by our partners at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, challenging the second version of the Emergency Election Plan on the grounds that it did not go far enough in expanding vote-by-mail,” according to Janea Jamison, program manager at PCEJ. “We were also concerned by the wording and layout of the absentee ballots, as well as the Secretary’s ability to administer an election under these difficult circumstances, given his stated opposition to vote-by-mail. That lawsuit was dismissed, on the grounds that PCEJ and the other plaintiffs lacked standing. But after seeing how Saturday’s election played out, it appears our concerns were well-founded.”
In June, it was discovered that Secretary Ardoin’s office had mistakenly left 300,000 eligible senior voters off of a mailing list to receive promotional material about absentee voting. On the night before the July 11 election, the Orleans Parish registrar of voters announced that 4,000 mail-in ballot applications had been left in the post office, and were only discovered when it was too late for them to be sent and processed.
While those were the most glaring issues, we identified several other problems during our statewide election protection, which we performed in concert with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Voice of the Experienced (VOTE), including:
Lack of PPE and proper sanitation at some polling locations
Some voters reported that their party affiliation had been changed without their knowledge, which made them ineligible to vote in the closed party primary
Other voters reported being turned away because they weren’t registered with a political party, even when there were nonpartisan races on the ballot
Last-minute polling location changes, with voters getting little notice, most notably in Shreveport and Broussard
Confusing or missing signage
Unnecessary police and National Guard presence at polling locations
Lack of air conditioning in some polling places
Lack of accessibility for disabled people
There are many important takeaways from this election. For instance, in rejecting Secretary Ardoin’s initial Emergency Election Plan in April, which would have allowed anyone who feared for their safety due to COVID-19 to apply for an absentee ballot, members of the legislature argued that we didn’t know if the pandemic would still be around by the time the election occurred. It turns out it was. It will likely be with us in November as well. And several voters reported testing positive for the virus, or being exposed to someone who tested positive, when it was too late to apply for an absentee ballot.
We also saw that, even with restrictions in place, more people are going to vote-by-mail. We need to be better prepared to ensure that large influxes of mail-in ballot applications and the ballots themselves are tracked and counted. Secretary Ardoin has repeatedly lauded his department as one of the best in the country. We hope they’ll be able to meet that high standard in the coming months. But the ultimate effectiveness of the coming elections is not only in the hands of Secretary Ardoin and his department. It’s up to each of us to make sure we’re educated and ready to vote.
“We all need to plan and prepare for this year’s August, November, and December elections,” said PCEJ Executive Director Ashley Shelton. “Check your registration status, come up with a voting plan, learn more about the candidates and the offices they are running for. As a people-centered organization, the Power Coalition will help. We’ll continue to provide voters with resources and information, fight to ensure every vote is counted, amplify the voices of people in our communities and share their stories, and serve as a home for anyone who wants to become more involved in the political process and in making the kind of change we need in our communities and in our state.”
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 (VOTE), NAACP Legal Defense Fund
What: Power Coalition for Equity and Justice July 11 election report
When: July 15, 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