BATON ROUGE, La. (WVLA/WGMB) — As the nation faces both a coronavirus pandemic and a presidential election, supporters of mail-in voting suggest widening the practice in Louisiana would save lives — and save democracy.
State law currently limits absentee voting to voters who voice a state-approved need to vote remotely. Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin has approved requests from senior citizens, students, certain out-of-state residents and hospital or nursing home patients. Ardoin can also reject vote-by-mail requests at his discretion.
But as doctors call on limiting the size of public gatherings for the foreseeable future, state lawmakers and student activists suggest expanding remote voting is a matter of public health.
“We want to make sure voters have that option to stay home,” said Cat McKinney, an LSU senior who started advocating for mail-in voting after her university shifted to online-only courses last month. “When social distancing began, I realized elections were going to be another thing we would have to adjust to, like everything else in life.”
McKinney started Louisiana Vote by Mail, a nonpartisan group advocating for absentee ballots. Its online petition has collected nearly 2,500 names, as of Monday.
The petition is, in many ways, a companion to legislation by state Rep. Mandie Landry (D-New Orleans). Landry filed a bill to expand voting-by-mail in February, before Louisiana reported its first known COVID-19 case, and she says the virus’ impact since then only highlights her cause.
“It’s a good solution to a lot of problems,” Landry said. “If people don’t want to go into crowds — not to mention our elderly poll workers — this would allow our elections to still happen and keep everyone safe.”
“We also have a lot of shift and service industry workers who have crazy schedules and can’t always make it to vote,” she added. “I think it would be a money saver for Louisiana, too, because we wouldn’t have to open so many polling locations.”
Louisiana’s next votes are in June, after the COVID-19 outbreak led the state to delay its April presidential primary. Ardoin, the state’s election chief, has hinted that any electoral changes passed by lawmakers would not be ready that soon.
It may take a while for some Americans to feel comfortable voting in person again. Dr. Anthony Fauci, considered the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said Sunday he “can’t guarantee” that in-person voters won’t risk catching the novel coronavirus on Election Day, Nov. 3.
“We really need to make sure we have everything set for November,” Landry said. “We don’t know how long this will linger.”
“Life has to make adjustments,” McKinney said. “And you have to remain positive in any way you can.”