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Before a moment of silence in rememberance, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin talks about Rep. Reggie Bagala, R-Cut Off, who succumbed to the Coronavirus earlier in the month, during 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.

Two key Republican-led legislative committees and Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards have agreed on an emergency plan for the delayed spring elections, after GOP lawmakers rolled back the number of reasons people could access mail-in ballots that were included in an initial plan debated last week.

GOP lawmakers on the state Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee, who balked at the original plan because they claimed the expansion of mail-in ballots would invite voter fraud into the elections, approved the revised plan unanimously Wednesday morning. The House and Governmental Affairs Committee later approved the plan on an 11-5 vote. It also needs the approval of the full House and Senate.

The new plan, submitted by Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, reduces the number of reasons people can qualify for an absentee ballot out of concern for the coronavirus. 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 gone in the new plan, which applies only to July and August elections but could provide a foundation for the November presidential elections if the coronavirus makes a resurgence in the fall.

The remaining reasons people would be able to access a mail-in ballot, according to the revised version, 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.

Republicans in Louisiana have claimed a more robust expansion of mail-in ballots would tarnish the integrity of the elections by inviting voter fraud. Election experts, fact-checkers and studies have repeatedly shown that while the risk is slightly higher with mail-in ballots, voter fraud is still extremely rare.

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Ardoin said he worked on the plan with Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry and legislative leaders. This week he won the support of Edwards, who called it a “reasonable” plan.

Some Republican state representatives said they were still concerned about the mail-in ballots in the plan because they would not require a doctor’s note to prove people had COVID-19. Democrats on the House and Governmental Affairs Committee chastised the rollback of absentee ballots.

Democrats have pushed for a larger expansion of mail-in ballots amid the coronavirus, citing voter safety. Wisconsin’s GOP Legislature and Democratic governor failed to reach a deal on an election plan and held a presidential primary earlier this month that was widely considered a disaster, with people waiting in long lines to vote in person in the middle of a pandemic.

Louisiana’s plan also expands early voting from seven to 13 days, changes some polling locations originally located at senior centers and gives hand sanitizer to voters, among other changes.

The elections in Louisiana slated for July and August include the presidential primary, which is now virtually over, along with party positions and local elections across the state.

The full House and Senate must approve the revised plan for it to take effect. Both chambers will vote by mail.


Email Sam Karlin at skarlin@theadvocate.com