A West Monroe legislator said Friday he plans to go to court next week to seek an extension of early voting for the Dec. 6 U.S. Senate election.
Early voting begins Saturday, but has been cut from seven to five days because of two official state holidays: Thanksgiving on Thursday and Acadian Day on Friday.
State Rep. Marcus Hunter said he asked Secretary of State Tom Schedler to use his authority to keep the seven-day period because it infringes on voters’ ability to participate. But Schedler said the move would violate a state law that says registrar of voters’ offices “shall” be closed for state holidays.
“I intend to move forward unless between now and Monday (Schedler) has a change of heart and at least decides to pick up Friday,” said Hunter, a Democrat.
The lawsuit would be filed against Schedler in 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge, he said.
Early voting opens Saturday and ends Nov. 29 for the election which features the U.S. Senate runoff between veteran Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu and Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy. There are also two congressional seats yet to be settled. In the Baton Rouge-based 6th District, former Democratic Gov. Edwin Edwards faces Republican Garret Graves, an ex-aide of Gov. Bobby Jindal. In the sprawling 5th District, which runs from northeast Louisiana to the Felicianas, Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo, a Democrat, faces Alto physician Ralph Abraham, a Republican.
Baton Rouge area voters will also consider a variety of local issues and candidates. There are three East Baton Rouge Parish School Board seats on the ballot, while voters in Baker, Zachary and Central will decide whether to elect Cleveland Coon or Beau Higginbotham to the 19th Judicial District Court.
In Gonzales, voters will decide whether to recall or keep two city councilmen: Gary Lacombe and Timothy Vessel Sr. School Board candidates are on the ballot in a number of parishes around Baton Rouge, including Ascension, Iberville, East Felicana and Tangipahoa.
Voters in Tangipahoa, St. Helena and Livingston parishes will decide the fate of two judge seats on the 21st Judicial District Court.
Property taxes are on the ballot in East Feliciana and Livingston parishes, along with a measure to support the Central Fire Department. Mayor-President Kip Holden is asking voters to consider a reorganization of the Department of Public Works, while four Baton Rouge neighborhoods are asking for crime prevention fees to pay for private police patrols.
On the shortened early-voting period, Hunter said the governor’s proclamation for the Thursday and Friday holidays gives department heads discretion to keep essential employees on duty.
“He is choosing not to exercise discretion within his realm,” Hunter said.
Since early voting began in 2006, Schedler said it has been “customary to observe holidays which occur during an early voting period.”
There have been at least eight such occurrences when early voting has been cut short because of the holidays in various years — July 4th, Thanksgiving, Mardi Gras, Good Friday and Veterans Day.
But Hunter said there hasn’t previously been a reduction in early voting days during a statewide election. He said that makes a big difference.
Some 249,600 people voted early prior to November’s primary election.
Schedler suggested that Hunter go to the Legislature in 2015 with a proposed change in state law. If a lawsuit results in a court order to re-instate seven days of early voting, Schedler said his office “would advise our registrars appropriately.”
Hunter had suggested the possibility of allowing early voting to continue on Dec. 1 and Dec. 2 if other days were not added back during the regular early voting period.
Louisiana Democratic Party officials had no comment on the early voting issue.
State Republican Party executive director Jason Doré said party officials are not concerned about the shortened early voting.
“We have been aware of the Thanksgiving holiday impact on the runoff early voting for quite some time and planned accordingly,” Dore said. “Voters have plenty of time to get to the polls.”
Dore said Schedler is conducting the elections in compliance with the state law. “Right now we don’t see the need to change things,” he said.
Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter, @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage of the state capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.