ACA.voting54.120620

A voters exits the voting machine after casting her ballot during the run off election at Lafayette City Hall on Saturday, December 5, 2020 in Lafayette, La..

The chief executives of Georgia’s two largest corporations — Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola — issued statements Wednesday opposing Georgia’s new voting laws.

The Republican-majority Georgia General Assembly passed legislation, signed into law by the state’s GOP governor, that requires stricter voter identification and forbids drop boxes for mail ballots among its multiple tentacles.

“It makes it harder for people to vote, not easier,” said James Quincey, Coca-Cola’s chief executive.

Georgia lawmakers aren’t the only ones saying "ballot integrity" is necessary to restore voter confidence after allegations — though baseless — of widespread fraud during last year's presidential election. Legislators in 47 states have introduced 361 bills with restrictive provisions, according to The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School.

Ten minor elections bills have been filed, so far, for the Louisiana legislative session that begins April 12.

One that hasn’t been filed, yet, is an “omnibus” bill that state Rep. John Stefanski is said to be working. The Crowley Republican is in charge of the House committee overseeing voting procedures. Many are waiting to see if that legislation will limit use of mail ballots and embrace other Georgia-like changes that some Louisiana Republicans say their constituents want.

It remains to be seen what Leo Denault, head of Entergy, the largest corporation headquartered in Louisiana, would have to say if this state’s Republicans adopt Georgia-like measures. It is fairly clear that the head of the state’s other major employer — Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards — would likely veto any legislation reaching his desk that restricts voting rights.

One likely election-related issue, however, will pit Republicans against each other: whether to end nearly half-a-century of open primaries, in which all the candidates compete against each other with the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, and if nobody wins outright, squaring off in the general election. Some Republicans want to close the primaries, as the state briefly did in 2008-2010, to allow only voters registered with a particular party to vote in that party’s primary. Then candidates of different parties would face off in the general election.

Here too, Edwards isn’t on board.

The governor said in December 2018 that he “believes the open primary has served our state well.” Last week he added he “doesn’t have anything new to say about closed versus open primaries.”

Louisiana’s so-called “jungle primary” system was the brainchild of then-Gov. Edwin W. Edwards, who had grown weary of getting pounded from both ideological wings of the then dominant Democratic Party, only to face an unbloodied Republican.

The GOP is now the dominant party. Republicans control both chambers of the Legislature and the only Democrat elected statewide in more than a decade is John Bel Edwards.

Now, three prominent Republicans oft-named as possible gubernatorial candidates in 2023 — Attorney General Jeff Landry, state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, and U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson — are among those spearheading the closed primary effort. They say it’s important to get newly elected congressmen to Washington, D.C., in November rather waiting for runoffs in December. But GOP activists also say that candidates in pure party contests would not have to modify their stances to make the general election, leading to right-wingers having a better chance of being elected.

More moderate Republicans, such as U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy and U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, both of Baton Rouge, have come out against the effort.

Edwin Edwards in May 1975 testified in support of Senate Bill 274, saying that the Democratic Party had dominated Louisiana politics for generations leading many to register Democratic to ensure they would be able to participate in the only election that mattered: the primary. Open primaries would increase Republican registration to about 30% of the state’s voters, Edwards said, adding, “The remaining people in the Democratic Party would be there by choice and not by force.”

The state’s major newspapers — including this one — organized labor, the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana and the state Republican Party opposed the bill. But the new process allowed Dave Treen in 1979 to defeat a slate of prominent Democrats and become the first Republican governor elected in Louisiana since Reconstruction. Treen won with considerable help from Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser’s father, William, and as the only Republican, stood aside as Democratic candidates — particularly, Lt. Gov. Jimmy Fitzmorris and Public Service Commission Chairman Louis Lambert — pummeled each other for several months.

Nungesser the younger, another potential gubernatorial candidate in 2023, testified last week before a task force that issued recommendations for legislation to close primaries. He noted that back in 1975, about 47,400 of Louisiana’s voters registered as Republicans. That number has swelled to 1.02 million or about 34% of the roughly 3 million registered voters as of Thursday.


Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.