voting stock ballot election

The coronavirus has caused an influx of mail-in ballots ahead of the July 11 election, particularly from those 65 and older who are statistically more at risk for serious complications and death if they contract the virus.

East Baton Rouge Parish has seen what registrar of voters Steve Raborn called a “sharp increase” in mail-in ballot requests, rising from a previous high of 8,022 mail-in requests during the 2016 presidential general election to an estimated 15,000 as of Thursday afternoon.

Raborn attributes that increase to senior citizens who each received a letter from the Secretary of State earlier this year encouraging them to enroll in the mail-in ballot program amid the pandemic.

“There’s been a lot of interest in it and we’re still processing those requests,” Raborn said.

Surrounding parishes have seen the same rise. A representative at the Livingston registrar of voters office estimated the mail-in numbers have doubled from the previous average of about 1,800 requests, and anecdotally Ascension Parish registrar office’s chief deputy Kelli Lambert said there’s been a big increase from senior citizens, though as of Friday she didn’t have an official report with those numbers.

Shanika Olinde, the registrar of voters in Pointe Coupee Parish, said the increase in mail-in requests means more work for her staff in packaging the mail-in materials, but it’s a measure they’re willing to take for people to feel comfortable voting.

“We have over 800 requests which is the most we’ve ever had and it’s mainly those 65-and-older voters,” Olinde said. “It will add more to our work for sure, but we’re doing it and hopefully it goes flawlessly.”

Olinde said for each of those mail-in requests, staff needs to run the addresses through a system, enter that address on two envelopes and an affidavit then stuff each envelope with the correct ballots and get it mailed off.

Statewide, Secretary of State spokesman Tyler Brey said more than 116,000 absentee ballots had been requested for the July 11 election. Officials are projecting turnout of about 25% of the state's 2.99 million voters. Between 8% and 10% of that are expected to be absentee ballots.

Early voting for the state’s spring elections, which were delayed until July because of the coronavirus, began Saturday and runs through Saturday, July 4th, excluding Sundays.

The state has passed an emergency election plan that provides some people affected by the coronavirus access to mail-in ballots, but Republican lawmakers rolled back mail-in ballots from the original plan crafted by Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, also a Republican.

Aside from the presidential primaries, the elections will decide local races in 24 parishes and party committee positions.

Each parish has received kits of personal protective equipment for polling location staff and voting machines will be regularly wiped down and sanitized. Masks are recommended, but they won’t be required for voters.

Raborn said in East Baton Rouge Parish, early voters can expect machines to be cleaned between each voter and in some locations they’ve had to reduce the number of machines and check-in stations, though he’s hoping that won’t impact waiting times if voters are staggered in the times they turn out.

“There’s definitely things that will look different this time around,” he said.

Early voting begins Saturday and will continue through July 4. The last day to request a mail-in ballot is July 7.

Election day is July 11. Early voting will be held from June 20 to July 4 from 8:30 a.m. through 6 p.m. excluding Sunday, June 21 and Sunday, June 28.


Email Emma Kennedy at ekennedy@theadvocate.com.