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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.

Louisiana’s expanded early voting, mail ballots and other coronavirus precautions will still take place for the Nov. 3 presidential election, but Republicans Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin and Attorney General Jeff Landry are appealing a judge’s decision to implement the new rules.

Ardoin said in late September he wanted to focus on putting on the election and didn’t plan to appeal the federal court decision to expand absentee mail ballots, among other things, because of the pandemic. But he said he may appeal U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick’s legal opinion down the road.

While the appeal comes three days before early voting begins in Louisiana, Ardoin and Landry are not asking for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to block the rules between now and the Nov. 3 election. The notice of appeal was filed Tuesday.

"I have said from the beginning of the process that we needed clarity in how to administer the election, and the appeal seeks no changes to the November 3rd election,” Ardoin said in a statement. “We are not appealing for injunctive relief, and we are not asking for expedited consideration. We are simply asking for a review of the conclusions of law."

“We believe it is important for the Fifth Circuit to review the law upon which the district court relied its opinion. We believe the district court was wrong on the law," Bill Stiles, Chief Deputy Attorney General said in a prepared statement. "We believe it is in the interest of the State to have the law in this correct to ensure bad precedent does not get repeated.” 

"The Harding v. Edwards decision, which extended early voting in Louisiana to October 16-27 and added five Covid-related excuses that people can use to vote by mail, was good for Louisiana voters," Ashley Shelton, Executive Director of the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said in a prepared statement. "Many Louisianans have already applied to vote by mail using those reasons and returned their ballots, and early voting starts this Friday. The Attorney General has almost no chance of winning this appeal, and he will likely only add to his long record of wasting taxpayer dollars on frivolous, unsuccessful litigation."

It was not immediately clear what would happen if a judge ruled in Ardoin and Landry’s favor after the Nov. 3 election. The notice of appeal asks the Fifth Circuit to “decide the legal issues presented by this appeal following the normal and usual appellate procedures.” The election rules in question are also slated to be in effect for the December elections in Louisiana, where runoff elections occur.

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Ardoin submitted an emergency election plan this summer that allowed almost no additional absentee ballots for people affected by COVID-19, saying he was proposing a plan that could get through the heavily-Republican Legislature.

The emergency election plan needed not only support from the Legislature, but Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards as well. Edwards rejected the proposal, calling it inadequate, and instead asked Judge Dick to put in place the same precautions the state had for the summer municipal elections.

Dick, who was nominated to the bench by former President Barack Obama, ordered Ardoin to implement additional precautions. That included adding extra days for early voting and reinstating the mail-in ballot rules for the summer elections. That allows voters to seek an absentee ballot because they have underlying medical conditions, are experiencing symptoms, are caring for someone with the virus and several other reasons.

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Several registrars of voters said last week they are seeing huge spikes in requests for absentee ballots, especially in East Baton Rouge and Orleans parishes. But the vast majority of the mail ballots appear to be coming from people already allowed by state law to vote by mail, including those 65 and older.

Landry, a conservative Republican who has warred with Gov. Edwards, also recently blocked local election officials from tapping into a program funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to send free money to officials to run their elections in a pandemic. Landry warned the election officials the move was illegal, while also pushing a bill through the Legislature to make sure the practice is outlawed.

Email Sam Karlin at skarlin@theadvocate.com