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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.

Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said he’s got to focus on putting on an election and won’t appeal a federal trial court decision that requires expanded availability to absentee mail ballots for the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Ardoin said he may down the road appeal the underlying law that U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick, of Baton Rouge, used in her Sept. 16 ruling that requires more access to absentee mail ballots for COVID-19 worries than Ardoin and the Republicans had wanted.

“I and the voters deserve certainty,” Ardoin told The Advocate / The Times-Picayune. “My staff, the clerks and the (voter) registrars and their staffs need to know how we’re conducting this election. And for us, we’re conducting this election in accordance with what the judge ruled and current law.”

Lawyers on both sides of the case have been awaiting Ardoin’s decision of a ruling that he called disappointing, resulting in an “extensive liberal wish-list.”

“I got an election to put on and not much time to do so,” Ardoin said. His decision not to ask the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to set aside Dick’s order and hear the case on an emergency basis “cuts down on the amount of confusion for voters. They know now that they can early vote between Oct. 16th and Oct. 27th from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., except on Sundays.”

Ardoin is a Republican. Dick was nominated to the bench by a Democratic president.

Dick added a couple extra days for early voting and reinstated the procedures Ardoin had put in place for the summer elections, which allowed voters to seek an absentee ballot if they were at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 because of underlying medical conditions; were subject to a quarantine order; were experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking medical confirmation; or were caring for someone who was isolated because of the virus.

Republican legislators said they wouldn’t back a similar proposal for the Nov. 3 election. Ardoin removed the summer exceptions for November-December elections plan and won the approval of the GOP. But the move also prompted a lawsuit by two voters and two voting rights groups arguing that many voters, afraid of contracting COVID-19 while waiting in long lines to cast their ballots in person, would be disenfranchised from participating in the Nov. 3 election.

Though named the primary defendant, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards sided with the plaintiffs leaving Ardoin for the defense.

Ardoin said he remains concerned that the number of absentee ballots will slow the tally of votes, which usually can be posted unofficially on election night. Registrar of Voters around the state are reporting that about 185,000 absentee mail ballots already have been requested with another month to go before the Oct. 30 deadline. Usually the requests run less than 50,000, though in the 2016 presidential contest about 63,000 asked to mail their ballots.

The large number of mail ballots could delay the tally by a couple days.

The focus likely will be on who is elected president, but Louisiana voters also will be choosing a U.S. Senator, all six congressmen, two Public Service Commissioners, two Louisiana Supreme Court justices, a handful of state appellate court judges, all district judges and prosecutors, plus many local offices and several constitutional amendments. With the exception of the open seat for the 5th Congressional District, Louisiana voters likely will provide few surprises, at least in the federal races.

The real issue will be who makes runoffs in the various local races such as mayoral, district judge and prosecutors.

“A lot of candidates are going to be nervous,” Ardoin said. “If we have to go a day after or two days after (election night), they’re not going to know who the winner is until the count is finished … I’m sure we’ll be getting a lot of calls but I just ask people to be patient because we’ve never experienced this before.”

Candidates can challenge the results within 10 days of Election Day. It’s only then that the results can be certified.

The secretary of state has 32 days after Election Day to prepare for the Dec. 5 runoff.

“We’re going to start building the ballot as soon as the unofficial count is completed, but we can’t start printing or changing program until the count certified,” Ardoin said.

He plans to ask the Legislature, which is convening Monday for a special session, for legislation that would allow parish commissioners four days instead of one to check over the mail ballots that have been received.

Basically, absentee mail ballots, which need to arrive by the end of workday on Nov. 2, need to be processed by parish commissioners, ensuring that witnesses signed the ballot, for instance. Under state law allows each parish’s elections board to start doing that work the day before the election. That’s usually enough time. On election day, they are allowed to put the votes through a scanner that tabulates the results.

Many voters don’t complete the ballot, leaving empty some races, such as constitutional amendments. The scanner doesn’t work on incomplete ballots. Those are removed and put in pile to be checked by hand before the votes can be counted.

Ardoin’s office posted a video instructing voters, step-by-step, how to properly fill out and return an absentee ballot.

Dates to Remember

  • Deadline for registering by mail, postmarked by Monday, Oct. 5.
  • Deadline to register in person is Monday, Oct. 5.
  • Deadline to register online to vote is Tuesday, Oct. 13.
  • Early Voting starts Friday, Oct. 16, and runs through Tuesday, Oct. 27, except on Sundays.
  • Deadline to request a ballot by mail is received by Friday, Oct. 30.
  • Deadline for Registrar to receive voted mail ballot is Monday, Nov. 2
  • Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3
  • Runoff election Day is Saturday, Dec. 5

Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.