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Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin presents his proposal during 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.

Facing a legal challenge, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said Wednesday he’s about 10 days away from asking for another emergency plan to handle the marquee Nov. 3 elections in light of growing numbers of COVID-19 infections.

“Time is of the essence and I am working in that direction.” Ardoin told The Advocate and Times-Picayune. “I’m developing a plan with the thought process of us staying in Phase 2.”

The current plan, which allowed for more voters to request absentee ballots in the July 11 primary and Aug. 15 runoff, is set to expire after polls close.

But the coronavirus pandemic continues to surge in Louisiana. Gov. John Bel Edwards on Tuesday extended Phase 2, which includes closed bars and limited gatherings along with a statewide mandate wear masks until August 28. He hinted that the restrictions may last longer.

“Why hasn’t the ball already been rolling on this, particularly since it has become clear that COVID is not going away,” said Peter Robins-Brown, of the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, a voting rights group that filed a lawsuit earlier this week in Baton Rouge federal court.

Ardoin, a Republican, and Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards were sued for failing “to take action for safe and accessible voting and protect the right to vote” during the upcoming November and December elections. In addition to the Power Coalition, the lawsuit was joined by three voters and the Louisiana State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a civil rights organization. The plaintiffs specifically faulted the state for not extending modifications to state election law and asked for necessary for protections from the pandemic, including expansion of voting by mail, to ensure safety and that those afraid of catching COVID-19 are not disenfranchised.

Neither Ardoin nor Edwards could reply directly to the legal action.

But the governor’s office issued a statement: “It is highly likely that in November we will be in the same situation we are in now, with elevated COVID-19 cases across the Louisiana, which would necessitate taking extra measures to protect the health and safety of our voters and poll workers, and the voting rights of all. A request from the Secretary of State would be the first step in that process, and something that the Governor would support,” said Shauna Sanford, Edwards’ communications director.

Basically, Ardoin has to ask Edwards to declare an emergency situation for the November and December elections. The Louisiana House & Governmental Affairs and the state Senate & Governmental Affairs committees would have to agree. Then the Legislature asks Ardoin to present a plan.

In April, the Republican majority in the Legislature rejected Ardoin’s initial plan as too expansive. Negotiations led to a tighter plan with fewer exceptions allowed for voting by mail.

Under the compromise, voters could cast mail in absentee ballots, if they had serious medical conditions or were quarantined or taking care of someone quarantined. Ardoin had wanted to temporarily allow voting by mail for people between ages 60 and 65 or those caring for a child whose school was closed.

Louisiana’s current absentee voting laws allow registered voters to vote by mail, but only under certain conditions, such as military deployment, being away for college or being 65 years of age or older.

The November plan likely will require different components, Ardoin said.

The plans for the primary elections, which were postponed twice, were developed while the state was under the governor’s “stay at home” order. This time around the restrictions aren’t as strict.

Ardoin said he is reviewing what worked and what needs improvement. “The plan worked well, the voters didn’t feel the need to use it as much we thought they would,” he said, adding that only about 1,800 voters applied for mail-in ballots because of coronavirus conditions.

State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, the Slidell Republican who chairs the Senate & Governmental Affairs Committee, says she has been in touch with the secretary of state about the possibility of convening the panel within the next two weeks. She’s okay with an emergency plan for the Nov. 3 general election and the December runoff, but not as broad as litigants want.

“I would not expect it to include universal mail ballot,” Hewitt said Wednesday. “There’s not support for that in the Louisiana Legislature. It’s complicated by the U.S. Postal Service being so unreliable.”

On the national front, President Donald Trump continued his attacks against mail-in voting. His campaign and the Republican National Committee filed a lawsuit Wednesday asking a federal court to block enforcement of Nevada’s new election law allowing their voters to cast their ballots for president by mail because it would “require massive changes in election procedure and processes.”

Ardoin said he likely wouldn’t include more expansive mail-in ballots given problems experienced in other states. New York, for instance, has two congressional elections still undecided after six weeks because of major delays in counting a flood of 400,000 ballots mailed in for that state’s June 23 primary.

In the meantime, Ardoin has been talking to the Louisiana Supreme Court to allow setting up voting machines in much larger courtrooms than the usual precinct locations in the courthouse lobby, to allow for greater social distancing.

He spoke with clerks around the state Tuesday to identify precincts that need expanded space and whether they can use a larger space in same place.

He’s also in contact with elections officials in Michigan and Georgia, who are working to set-up mega-sites in NBA arenas. Ardoin said he’s looking doing something similar in New Orleans’ Smoothie King Center, where the Pelicans basketball team plays, to allow multiple precincts to vote in a space large enough to ensure social distancing.

“We can go through local government without have to go through an emergency plan,” which needs legislative approval, he said of mega-sites.

His office also is buying masks and sanitizing chemicals as well as Plexiglas shields for individual precincts.

Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.