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Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, left, chats with Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, right, before the beginning of the Committee on House and Governmental Affairs meeting in the House chamber at the State Capitol Wednesday April 15, 2020, in Baton Rouge, La. The committee listened to Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin's proposal to change the 2020 presidential preference primary election and the 2020 municipal general election and to consider written emergency plan for the elections.

Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin has submitted a new emergency election plan to lawmakers that rolls back voters’ access to absentee ballots amid the coronavirus pandemic, following Republican pushback over an initial plan that would have extended mail-in ballots to more people.

Ardoin, a Republican, presented his initial plan to lawmakers last week after negotiations with Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, who delayed the spring elections for a second time until July and August.

The new plan reduces the number of reasons people can qualify for an absentee ballot. Originally, the plan would have allowed absentee ballots for those 60 or older, those subject to a stay-at-home order, those unable to appear in public due to concern of exposure or transmission of COVID-19, or those caring for a child or grandchild whose school or child care provider is closed because of the virus.

All those reasons are now gone, according to a revised plan submitted by Ardoin’s office. The remaining reasons people would be able to access a mail-in ballot, according to the plan, include those at higher risk because of serious medical conditions, those subject to a “medically necessary quarantine or isolation order,” those advised by a health provider to self-quarantine, those experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis, or those caring for someone who is subject to a quarantine order and has been advised to self-quarantine.

Ardoin’s office said he worked out the new plan with lawmakers and Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office. 

On Tuesday afternoon, Ardoin discussed the plan with Edwards, a Democrat, who announced his support of the plan at a press conference. 

"I think that draft plan was calibrated to make sure it would enjoy a support of a majority of folks on the House and Senate governmental affairs committees, and do the most that it could to protect public health while affording people a reliable option to vote," Edwards said. "I think his plan does that."

"There will be enhanced opportunities to request ballots by mail," the governor added. "It’s not quite as open as it was in the first plan. But I think it’s a reasonable plan under the circumstances." 

Hearings from the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee, which rejected the initial plan, and the House and Governmental Affairs Committee, are slated for Wednesday morning at the State Capitol.

Senate and Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Sharon Hewitt, a Slidell Republican, said on Twitter Tuesday she supported the revised plan and said it protects the election from "potential voter fraud." 

Officials on both sides of the issue have said they want to avoid holding an election similar to that of Wisconsin, which recently held in-person elections in the middle of a pandemic after the state’s Democratic governor and GOP Legislature couldn’t agree on an emergency plan.

But Ardoin faced pushback from his own party last week, as GOP state Senators claimed the additional reasons voters could qualify for an absentee ballot would invite fraud into the elections. President Donald Trump has also claimed more mail-in ballots would create opportunities for fraud. Numerous fact-checkers and election experts indicate voter fraud is extremely rare, even with mail-in ballots.

Democrats in Louisiana have pushed for expanded access to mail-in ballots, in line with recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, to give voters the option of avoiding in-person contact when they vote in the presidential primary and other local elections later this summer.


Email Sam Karlin at skarlin@theadvocate.com