It has been observed that Louisiana is not a red state or a blue state — it is a non-voting state. From local to state and federal elections, we have a crisis of faith in voter access, voting systems, and voter confidence that voting even matters. Voter participation in some local elections is in the single digits and heading downward.
In some cases, Louisiana has lately made great strides in the area of voter access. It authorized the purchase of new voting equipment to, among other goals, provide a paper trail that can be used in recounts or audits, joining the 44 states that already or will soon have this important election security tool. But the deal fell through because of allegations of corruption and, as a result, Louisianans will vote in the statewide elections this fall with machines purchased in 2005 that have no paper backup. Louisiana also implemented a process to restore voting rights to those with felony convictions in a new law that went into effect March 1, 2019. But there remain questions about whether formerly incarcerated citizens are fully aware of the law and what the procedures are for restoring their right to vote.
Louisiana is not alone; voter apathy is a national crisis. In response, Congress has taken a bold step to address the root causes. In March, the House passed H.R. 1, the “For the People Act”— far-reaching legislation intended to restore voter access, counter redistricting plans that amount to gerrymandering, shed light on the role of “dark money” on our politics with new disclosure rules, and challenge government corruption. It was introduced in the Senate by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico as S.949, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will not allow the “For the People Act” to even be heard — much less voted upon — on the Senate floor.
These are not abstract concerns for Louisiana. We vote on increasingly outdated equipment, the number of polling places has been reduced statewide, and access to early voting is uneven across the state, in many cases disproportionately impacting minorities, disabled persons, and senior citizens. Super PACs whose donors’ identities are shrouded behind a veil of secrecy funnel money to our political candidates in Louisiana, as they do around the nation, and it has been reported in the press that some of this “dark money” was used to fund the purchase of Louisiana citizens’ Facebook data from the now-defunct firm, Cambridge Analytica, in the 2016 election. Louisiana’s purchase of new voting machines has been held up because of a contract bidding scandal, and our former secretary of state used taxpayer funds to pay off debts related to a sexual harassment lawsuit — a practice prohibited in earlier drafts of H.R. 1 before being addressed in another House bill at the end of 2018.
The stakes are high for Louisiana — and the nation — in the “For the People Act.” We at the League of Women Voters of Louisiana call on U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy to prevail upon McConnell to allow this important piece of reform legislation to be heard on the Senate floor. We must work for reforms in voter rights, fair redistricting, disclosure of the role of money in politics, and challenging corruption at every level of government. If we do not, the inevitable result is even greater voter apathy, escalating cynicism about the process and a declining respect for our legislative branch of government. Let the Senate hold hearings and vote on S.949 so we can see where our legislators stand on making the representative democracy envisioned by our nation’s founders truly representative of and effective for all our nation’s citizens.
M. Christian Green is a member of the League of Women Voters of Louisiana board of directors. She lives in Lafayette.