Early voting is on the rise in Lafayette, but the parish provides only one site on the third floor of the Parish Courthouse Annex at 1010 Lafayette St. for early voting cycles.
Since the spring of 2017, the League of Women Voters of Lafayette has appealed to city-parish officials to better accommodate early voters in Lafayette Parish by adding an additional early voting site or sites for federal elections.
During the early voting cycle in the 2016 federal election with the highest early turnout to date, several League members observed problems with the ability of the annex to house a fully accessible early voting process. These issues included inadequate parking and handicapped accessibility, no ground floor voting and overcrowding. The League recognizes the parish has made improvements for those with limited mobility, but challenges remain regarding crowd size, parking and safety.
The city of Lafayette is the fourth most populated urban area in the state; Lafayette Parish ranks fifth. Orleans, Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes have three or four early voting sites. At least 11 other parishes with populations smaller than that of Lafayette have more than one early voting site.
It is the responsibility of the parish council to provide for early voting for residents in the parish. The process includes selecting an appropriate site or sites, coordinating issues of election integrity and security with the Registrar of Voters and Louisiana’s Secretary of State’s Office and appropriating funding for the locations.
Democracy succeeds or fails on the ability of the electorate to actively participate in the election process. Making it easier for people to vote provides an effective path forward for increasing voter participation.
As a community, we should not underestimate the important responsibility of the Lafayette Parish Council to facilitate fair and accessible elections for the people of Lafayette Parish. The single, small, third-floor site is no longer viable.
The League is again asking the parish council to consider at a minimum an additional large site centrally located in Lafayette Parish that is fully accessible for people with limited mobility, adequate to facilitate larger crowds and connected by public transportation. The League appreciates the leadership of the Registrar of Voters, Parish Councilman John Guilbeau and state Rep. Jean-Paul Coussan, R-Lafayette, and their efforts thus far to work with us toward opening an additional early site, but there’s work to be done and time is running out to ensure the November 2020 early voting election infrastructure is adequate for the number of people choosing to cast their votes early.
KATHLEEN SCHOTT ESPINOZA
League of Women Voters