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Election commissioner's finger tracks candidates' names, as he calls out votes for each during an absentee ballots recount in the extraordinary Senate District 16 race, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019 in City Hall.

More than 20,000 East Baton Rouge Parish voters have requested mail-in ballots — more than three times the number in 2016 — and Registrar of Voters Steve Raborn says those ballots could start going out in the next few weeks.

Raborn attributes the uptick to voters jumping on the list earlier in the coronavirus pandemic. 

"We've been getting inquires about COVID concerns, but the big increase now is due to the Secretary of State mailing out requests to all eligible voters age 65 and older who weren't already on the permanent absentee by mail list," he said. 

As of Monday, Raborn's office had received 20,179 requests for mail-in ballots ahead of the Nov. 3 elections. That's roughly 7% of the parish's total registered voters. 

In the 2016 fall elections, there were 8,022 requests and almost 6,000 returned ballots, Raborn said. 

"It's significantly more and increasing daily," he said.

How long registered voters can request mail-in ballots will be determined by the outcome of the federal lawsuit challenging Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin's proposed plan for the Nov. 3 elections. 

The lawsuit is asking the court for greater voter access to absentee mail ballots in light of the ongoing pandemic. U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick ruled Wednesday that Louisiana voters should have more access to absentee ballots this fall, a decision that essentially resurrects Ardoin’s emergency protocols from the July 11 and Aug. 15 primaries. 

Those allowed voters to seek an absentee ballot if they were at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 because of underlying medical conditions; were subject to a quarantine order; were experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking medical confirmation; or were caring for someone who was isolated because of the virus.

Ardion had rolled back many of the COVID-19 related protocols his office implemented earlier this year because Republicans in the Legislature said they wouldn't support a plan similar to the primaries for the fall general elections.

Officials from his office have already testified they're worried they won't have enough time to tally mail-in ballots given the surge in requests they've already received.

Dick's ruling could be appealed.

"We had a special application for COVID-19 concerns for the elections in July and August but we don't know if that will continue for November," Raborn said. "We're waiting on the results from the lawsuit."

In the meantime, once his office receives ballots from the Secretary of State later this week, he said they will begin processing them and mailing them out to the voters that have already asked for them. 

"It'll probably take us a good 10 days before initial mailings go out," he said.


Email Terry Jones at tjones@theadvocate.com