Should the state withdraw non-presidential elections from hurricane season?
If you ask Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin what his office is working on, you’ll likely get a different answer depending on the time of day. In addition to recent COVID-19 cases that have temporarily downsized, Ardoin and his team are handling a delayed fall election, reworking speakers damaged by Hurricane Ida, and overseeing a controversial purchasing process for voting machines .
The state office has become a hotbed of hard news over the past two years, and the trend is unlikely to abate. On the horizon, Ardoin is planning an aggressive agenda for the 2022 regular session, including pushing some issues that were part of the bills that Gov. John Bel Edwards has vetoed.
In an interview last week in Baton Rouge, Ardoin said now is the time to think more about the relationship between the Louisiana election and the hurricanes. With a seemingly endless stream of storms coming from the Gulf of Mexico, should Louisiana hold an election in the fall in non-presidential election years?
“I think that’s something we should at least start discussing,” Ardoin said. “Over the past two years, it seemed to us that we were facing increasing challenges. At the very least, I think there are some things we can do with emergency procedures. For example, we should explore the possibility of presenting more than one contingency plan to the Legislature for discussion. Another area worth considering is the approval timeline. There is also a little more authority that can be given to make emergency decisions.
Ardoin has been briefed by local election officials in recent weeks about their own needs, which in part feeds into his office’s political strategy. He has visited all areas affected by Hurricane Ida and his office is already working on the merger of constituencies and preparing tents and other supplies ahead of the November 13 primary.
A community center is being used at LaPlace and there are significant changes in the parish of Lower Lafourche, he said. Ardoin’s team was expected to have completed their assessment by last week, but the secretary said the Terrebonne parish had requested more time to investigate its own needs.
“Some local officials like the idea of a mega-speaker and find that they work better,” Ardoin said. “It’s more of a long-term conversation, not something that can become permanent in the short term. But it shows how this process provides opportunities to assess how we are doing our jobs. ”
Hurricane Ida also derailed the inaugural meeting of the Louisiana Voting System Commission, which was scheduled to meet on September 1. The commission was created by the Legislature to help Ardoin’s office draft a request for proposal, or RFP, to replace old voting machines.
The RFP process has created friction in some conservative circles, especially among supporters who share concerns about the validity of the last presidential election. In other words, mistrust of technology and government created unexpected hurdles for PD. In response, the commission was formed to award a contract for new voting machines that could be worth up to $ 100 million over 10 years.
Ardoin said he was working to get the commission back on track and meet this month. From there, the road to be covered will be long and arduous. “We are probably two good years away from doing this,” the secretary said.
In the meantime, Ardoin’s office is working on a handful of bills for the ordinary session to be held on March 14, 2022. This agenda will include political issues covered by three bills from this year’s ordinary session to which the governor ultimately vetoed:
- HB138 from Rep. Les Farnum, R-Sulfur, reportedly required clerks to conduct a second annual poll of all voters, with a purge if necessary.
- SB63 by Senator Robert Mills, R-Minden, would have allowed a voter to hand deliver a postal ballot at certain election locations.
- Senator Sharon Hewitt’s SB20, R-Covington, reportedly created a commission to help draft contingency electoral plans which would then be considered by the legislature, reducing the governor’s influence in the process.
“There may be changes here and there,” Ardoin said, “but these are the concepts we’re working on right now.”
Fortunately, Ardoin has around 160 extra days to work on bills, which may indeed require some adjustments to get through the legislative process.
Unfortunately, the time limit is much shorter for other items on the secretary’s desk. The delayed election, for example, is about 40 days away, with early voting starting in just a few weeks. Additionally, the first meeting of the Louisiana Voting System Commission will be announced overnight.
Ardoin and his team would certainly accept a little more time to focus on their common mission, but time is running out these days. Attention, however, is something they will be getting a lot of in the coming weeks.