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Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin talks in his office about the state's election security, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020. Louisiana is the only state slated to vote entirely on paperless machines that experts say are more at risk of cyber attacks and other issues than newer machines with paper backups.

Louisiana’s presidential primary and other local elections have been delayed again until late summer as state leaders offer up a plan that includes expanded access to early voting and mail-in ballots but is expected to still feature in-person voting for most people.

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Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, a Republican, and Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, agreed to delay the presidential primary election – originally set for April 4th, but pushed back until June 20th – until July 11th to give Ardoin’s office more time to prepare. The subsequent general election for some local races was delayed until August 15th.

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“There’s just more work that needs to be done and I think he just needed another month,” said state Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairwoman Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, noting Ardoin’s office needed more equipment and had to print more ballots.

Edwards, during a press conference Tuesday, endorsed an emergency election plan offered by Ardoin to extend early voting from a week to 13 days and expand absentee voting to people affected by the coronavirus, among other measures.

The plan, which is slated for a vote by the House and Senate governmental affairs committees Wednesday at the State Capitol, allows several categories of people who don’t normally qualify for absentee ballots to cast their vote by mail. That includes those with serious underlying health conditions, those 60 or older, people subject to stay-at-home, quarantine or isolation orders, those experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis or those who are “unable to appear in public” because of concerns they were exposed to the virus, among others.

In Ardoin’s emergency election plan, released by legislative leaders, he estimates 375,000 people will cast their vote by mail in the primary, compared to 63,000 in the 2016 primary. Louisiana will have virtually no role in selecting the presidential contenders, with former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump the presumed nominees for their respective parties. Other local races are on ballots across the state. Around 2.4 million voters are eligible for the July 11 election.

Ardoin also indicated his office would not release unofficial election results on election night, writing in the plan that no results will be reported until the scanning and tabulation of all mail-in ballots is complete, “not longer than two weeks after election day.”

Ardoin’s office also has identified 32 polling places across the state that he says need to be moved because they are located in senior centers or other locations with elderly people. That includes nine in Jefferson Parish, four in Orleans Parish and one in St. Tammany Parish. The plan calls for the use of warehouses where voting machines are held as temporary polling places if new locations can’t be found.

Asked whether he supports universal mail-in ballots for the November general election, Edwards said he doesn’t think the state will need to do anything “terribly different” for that election than the new plan for the presidential primary. But he said officials would review the election plan in the coming months.

State Rep. Mandie Landry, D-New Orleans, filed a bill before the coronavirus pandemic to make mail-in ballots widely available in Louisiana, and said Tuesday the emergency plan put forth by Ardoin is reasonable for the late summer elections. But she said she continues to push for expanded mail-in ballot access for the November elections.

“I think for July this addresses the issue,” Landry said. “We have allowed vote by mail in Louisiana for a long time but it’s very restrictive. So I think it will take longer to expand it to all voters and I think it can be done by November.”

Universal mail-in ballots have emerged as a hotly-debated topic nationally, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommending states encourage the use of mail-in ballots during the coronavirus pandemic, and Trump claiming they "substantially" increase the risk of voter fraud.

According to the Associated Press, some election studies have shown a slightly higher rate of fraud with mail-in ballots but the overall risk is “extremely low.”


Email Sam Karlin at skarlin@theadvocate.com