There was no shortage of heat at the State Capitol this spring as lawmakers who gathered for what was officially a fiscal session sought out battle after battle in the national culture wars.
Like elsewhere, headlines here were generated by fights over whether transgender student athletes should be allowed to participate in high school sports, gun owners would be able to carry concealed firearms without permits or training, and teachers should honestly reckon with the times our country has failed to live up to its lofty ideals.
But on one issue that sent tempers soaring in places such as Georgia and Texas — the all-important right for everyone to vote without difficulty — the Louisiana Legislature, Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin and Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards managed to turn the temperature down.
This was a welcome surprise, considering the ugliness that ensued when lawmakers battled over pandemic rules ahead of last year’s elections, as some Republicans then promoted baseless fears of potential voter fraud. They fought to limit accommodations for those who couldn’t or didn’t feel comfortable going to crowded polling places.
And this year's calm was particularly noteworthy given the ongoing, repeatedly disproven claims by former President Donald Trump and some of his supporters that the November election was stolen. In fact, given the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic and partisan jostling over process, the 2020 election went remarkably well, thanks in no small part to conscientious election workers and officials from both parties.
Yet false claims of mass irregularities have fueled legislation elsewhere to make access more difficult, particularly for groups that tend to vote Democratic, and to give elected legislatures more control over the eventual outcomes. The good news is that, for the most part, these ideas fizzled in Louisiana.
A few bad ideas did make it through, and Edwards used his veto pen. He rejected Senate Bill 224 by Sen. Heather Cloud, R-Turkey Creek, for example, which added new ID verification requirements to mail ballots, pointing to the legislation’s undue haste.
“Louisiana election law being changed overnight without proper vetting is an incredible disservice to the people of the state,” he wrote.
Edwards also rejected a bill changing absentee ballot drop-off rules, and another to allow political parties to send monitors to each precinct (candidates are already allowed to send watchers), arguing that the latter would “further politicize the operation of elections.” That’s something nobody needs in the current environment, and if lawmakers decide to return for an unprecedented veto override session later this month, we hope they’ll let these vetoes stand.
The legislation that Edwards did sign revealed a promising willingness on all sides to tone things down.
The governor OK'd a bill authored by state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell — crafted with Ardoin’s help — to establish a Louisiana Voting System Commission of four citizens, four legislators, four election experts, and one cybersecurity expert to review options for updated, secure voting machines. He also signed bills extending early voting for presidential elections and giving voters a bit more time in the booth.
The overall takeaway is that lawmakers resisted the urge to give in to hyped-up fears and play to their most partisan constituents, at least on this one issue.
That’s a good model for governance, and we hope they’ll decide to do it more often.