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.
In Lafayette Parish, voters will weigh in on runoffs in a judicial race, the one undecided seat on the School Board, the city marshal’s race and municipal seats in Duson, Scott and Youngsville.
Voters also will decide whether to approve two new tax proposals: a parishwide 1-cent sales tax for a new terminal at the Lafayette Regional Airport and a 4-cent hotel tax in Carencro. The airport tax would be assessed on everything except groceries and medicine and is expected to bring in $35 million to $37 million during its eight-month life, from April 1 until Nov. 30, 2015. The Carencro tax on hotels would be devoted to economic development, tourism and related infrastructure.
In the School Board District 1 race, Mary Morrison and “Coach Don” Gagnard face off to represent residents in the Scott area.
In the runoff for Lafayette city marshal, Kip Judice, a captain on leave from the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office, and Brian Pope, a veteran deputy marshal, are vying to replace longtime Marshal Earl “Nickey” Picard, who finished third in the four-candidate primary on Nov. 4.
Former School Board member Mark Allen Babineaux faces Michelle Meaux Breaux in the runoff for 15th Judicial District Division E judge.
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 general 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 reinstate 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,” Doré said. “Voters have plenty of time to get to the polls.”
Doré 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/.