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Louisiana Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, in the Senate chamber.

Spurred by Donald Trump’s fallacious assertions of a stolen election, Republican-dominated statehouses around the country have passed into law an unprecedented number of changes to elections procedures on the grounds of increasing ballot security.

Critics, including President Joe Biden, say the new laws are nothing but a 21st Century rehash of Jim Crow-era voting barriers aimed at keeping minorities and low-income workers from participating.

Though both contenders attracted more votes than any presidential candidate before, Biden beat Trump by more than 7 million votes in November 2020 election that made wide use of mail ballots and drop-off boxes to increase accessibility during the pandemic.

Florida, Iowa, Georgia, and other states have passed laws that require additional identification from voters, shorten timeframes to apply for mail ballots, limit the use of drop boxes that make returning those ballots more difficult, empower partisan poll watchers, ease purges of voter registration rolls, limit the number of polling places, and even forbid giving water to voters standing in line. This year, through mid-May, 14 states have enacted 22 new laws “that restrict access to vote,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, a policy research institute that has been tracking the legislation and reports monthly.

But not in Louisiana.

Partly that’s because in-person voting goes much quicker and few Louisiana voters have to endure the hours-long waits that were seen in Atlanta and Houston. More Louisiana voters cast mail ballots in November but that was largely because the state was ordered by a federal court to relax some of its requirements during the pandemic.

And partly, of course, is that despite Republicans tight hold on the Legislature, statewide offices and the congressional delegation, Louisiana has a Democratic governor.

“I believe that the legislators in Louisiana understand without asking that I’m not going to sign a bill that makes it harder to register to vote or vote in Louisiana in light of the fact that our elections have been held in a way that they have not resulted in any real allegation of fraud,” Edwards said last week. “We’re not going to create problems for people unnecessarily, especially something that is so important as participating in our democracy and choosing who our leaders are, the direction of our state. We’re just not going to do that in Louisiana while I’m the governor.”

“We already had similar laws (that have been passed elsewhere) and we allow the secretary of state the discretion to put a lot of safeguards in place,” said House Republican Majority Leader Blake Miguez, who represents Erath.

“Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin has done an excellent job of bringing everyone to the table,” said Peter Robins-Brown, who handles policy for Louisiana Progress, a liberal Baton Rouge-based advocacy group. Ardoin, a Republican who runs elections in Louisiana, has sat down with each of the legislators seeking changes in voting procedures to work out ways to address their concerns.

“He has taken a lot of heat and he has been able to navigate a difficult local and national situation in very diplomatic way,” Robins-Brown added.

Louisiana lawmakers filed 25 election-related instruments for consideration. Some were abandoned along the way.

The four measures already signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards included two – House Bill 319 and House 214 – that increase training for elections supervisors. Of the six voting rights bills that have cleared the Legislature and sit on his desk now, one extends the number of early voting days, House Bill 286. The only controversial one, House Bill 20, would prohibit private funders from helping defer the expenses of putting on an election.

Four others are scheduled for a vote by the full Senate or House – including House Bill 329, which would allow 17-year-olds to accompany their parents beyond the curtains to watch their parents vote.

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A much-amended Senate Bill 224, by Republican Sen. Heather Cloud, of Turkey Creek, is scheduled Monday for a final House passage vote. The measure started out seeking more identification and requiring ID verification from voters wanting to use mail ballots. SB224 has been toned down to now only require that absentee ballots list the last four digits of the voter’s social security number, which already is included on mail ballots as a verification option.

“It’s because we haven’t had the allegations of fraud,” said John Stefanski, the Crowley Republican who chairs the House & Governmental Affairs Committee that handles election-related legislation.

“Our narrative is a little different,” he said, adding that a lot of constituents are more interested in how the new voting machines are chosen.

Louisiana’s current fleet of voting machines are a couple decades old. Replacing the older machines with newer ones was something of an odyssey even before the presidential elections. Dominion Voting Systems Corp., an equipment and software company founded in Canada with headquarters in Denver, won the early phase of a bidding process that was successfully challenged as unfair by the losers. Work on a new bidding process is still ongoing.

After the presidential election, a Q’Anon conspiracy theory, picked up by right-wing media as accurate despite no evidence whatsoever, claimed Dominion was secretly owned by either Venezuelans or Chinese, depending on the thread, and had purposely changed millions of votes to throw the election to Biden.

One measure, Senate Bill 221, addressed the acquisition of voting machines and passed both chambers. The instrument is sitting in conference committee to hash out final wording changes.

SB221 would create a 13-member Voting System Commission that would research voting systems and help guide Ardoin on which type to pursue. It also creates a Voting System Proposal Evaluation Committee to test possible voting systems.

The sponsor of that legislation, Sen. Sharon Hewitt, the Slidell Republican who chairs the Senate & Governmental Affairs Committee, said in a hearing last week that she would like to amend two House-passed measures into SB221 and present an omnibus for legislators to vote on before this year’s session adjourns at 6 p.m. Thursday.

Ardoin is working with her. She and Ardoin did not respond to messages seeking comment on Friday. One lawmaker, who is close to the process but asked not to be identified, said work on crafting the omnibus is going on through the weekend.

One of the potential measures to be included is House Bill 653, by Central Republican Rep. Barry Ivey. That bill is a more detailed version of how new voting machines should be chosen and used along with when paper ballots could augment the voting procedures. Hewitt also wants to include House Bill 704, by Denham Springs Republican Rep. Valarie Hodges, which provides definitions on the selection of voting machines but also contains how and when to shift to relying on paper ballots as backups plus enhances the powers of partisan poll watchers.

Hodges said she was open to merging HB704 with SB221 but had a few non-negotiable points she wanted included, such as enhanced poll watchers.

“I would rather pass the bill out,” Hodges told the Senate & Governmental Affairs Committee of her HB704 after Hewitt broached the idea of merging the bills. “I know that’s what the people of Louisiana want.”

Hodges’ bill is set for a Senate vote on Sunday night, if it isn’t added to the Hewitt measure.

Blake Paterson of the Capitol news bureau contributed to this report

Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.