Stickers are distributed as early voting continues for the Nov. 16 races on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2019, at the Registrar of Voters Office, at 1010 Lafayette Street in downtown Lafayette.

Local leaders have approved funding for a new early voting site in Lafayette Parish that's expected to be up and running in time for the presidential election this fall.

Voter advocates are raising concerns about the proposed voting site at the Lafayette Parish Library's east branch on La Neuville Road.

Although the site would be open to all registered voters in the parish, the library is not easily accessible by public transit and is located in a less diverse, more affluent portion of Lafayette Parish.

"This matter needs to be adequately dealt with now," said Kathleen Espinoza of the League of Women Voters of Lafayette. "Every voter in Lafayette Parish deserves a safe, accessible opportunity to early vote."

Elected officials in Youngsville and Broussard have been working with the Lafayette Parish Council, Lafayette Parish Registrar of Voters and the Louisiana Secretary of State's office to create the new voting site.

"It's been kind of a chore to get all of those agencies looking in the same direction to make this a reality," Broussard Mayor Ray Bourque said Tuesday afternoon. "I think that's why it's never worked before for Lafayette Parish."

The Broussard City Council unanimously approved a resolution during its regular meeting Tuesday evening to share expenses for the early voting site with the city of Youngsville.

Youngsville's city council approved a similar resolution during its May 14 meeting.

The cities of Youngsville and Broussard would share the estimated $62,000 expense of creating the new voting site, which is normally funded by parish government. After two years, the cities would then transfer ongoing expenses, estimated to cost about $40,000 annually, to Lafayette Parish.

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The Lafayette Parish Council is expected to address the proposal at a June meeting.

There has been support at the parish level, according to Lafayette Parish Councilman Josh Carlson, who represents the southern portion of the parish.

Carlson said the parish only has a cash reserve of about $50,000 and could not fund the creation of a second early voting site without the help from Youngsville and Broussard. He promised both city councils that their generosity wouldn't become a "long-term crutch" for the parish.

Every parish in the state has early voting available at the local registrar of voters' office.

The downtown Lafayette office has long been the only option for Lafayette Parish voters who wish to cast their ballots ahead of Election Day.

The League of Women Voters of Lafayette has long lobbied for the creation of a new early voting site due to concerns about the parish's only early voting location at 1010 Lafayette St. having limited parking and accessibility for those with disabilities. 

Espinoza, a geographer by trade, has written to the Lafayette Parish Council on behalf of the League of Women Voters to express concerns about the proposed site on the south side of the parish.

The nonpartisan group has suggested opening a second early voting site at the main branch of the Lafayette Public Library downtown. 

"The League is sensitive to the issue of adequate funds, but we feel that the costs associated with securing expanded access to voting is worth the priority in the budget," Espinoza said. "We would ask the (Lafayette Parish) Council to reflect on these priorities ahead of a November election that most likely will be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic."

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