The coronavirus doesn’t take time off — at least not yet — and in Louisiana, voting doesn’t either. So here we are, with the November presidential election and its ugly aftermath still fresh, about to head to the polls again to elect two new members of Congress.
One of the vacancies is the result of former 2nd District U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond’s elevation to a big job in the Biden administration. The second owes to the tragic death of 41-year-old Luke Letlow, who was elected by 5th District voters but who succumbed to COVID-19 complications days before he was to be sworn in. Also on the March 20 ballot are a smattering of local offices and questions.
If the prospect of yet another election conjures the famous Yogi Berra line about déjà vu all over again, one aspect of the March primaries and April runoffs will be different: Voters will cast their ballots according to rules that both Republicans and Democrats like.
The rules themselves are not new. They are the same emergency measures approved by the Republican-dominated Legislature and Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards for the summer presidential primaries, with marginally expanded absentee voting for those affected by the pandemic. They’re also the same rules that were in place for the November election and the December runoff, under orders from a federal judge after legislators tried to further restrict options and the governor refused.
The difference this time is that the plan by Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin won overwhelming approval from the same GOP lawmakers who’d once howled over the thought of expanding mail balloting. Their objections echoed turbocharged rhetoric from former President Donald Trump alleging that absentee voting — which is generally more popular with Democrats than Republicans — leads to fraud.
They, like Trump, could provide no evidence that’s true, and both the summer and fall elections in Louisiana went smoothly. There was more mail balloting than usual, but the big numbers came from older voters who can cast absentee ballots even when there’s no public health emergency.
The results were noticed by all, which is why this time, thankfully, partisan politics didn’t impinge on the debate over how to provide safe and secure ballot access.
The rules themselves are reasonable, although they don’t cover every case in which the coronavirus might deter people from voting in person. Able to vote by mail are those with underlying medical conditions, under quarantine, experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, or caring for someone in quarantine or isolation.
Unlike the previous emergency protocols, officials did not add additional days for early voting. That’s too bad, because the option has proven popular and non-controversial, and because spreading voting over a longer period of time helps with social distancing.
In fact, as alternatives to in-person Election Day voting become more prevalent nationwide, more early voting seems like a good idea even when there’s no public health emergency. At least it’s something on which both parties can presumably agree.