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Louisiana should increase access to voting during pandemic, judge rules

“Today’s ruling is a huge victory not only for the health and safety of the people of Louisiana, but also for their voting rights and our democracy,” said Edwards.

NEW ORLEANS — A federal judge has ruled that Louisiana should allow more access to absentee mail ballots for the upcoming Nov. 3 presidential election, especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

The ruling by Judge Shelly Dick came after a challenge by two Baton Rouge area voters who expressed concern over being in crowded voting precincts that could be super spreader events. The decision is likely to be appealed meaning that the voting process in Louisiana may remain in some limbo as the election draws closer.

"The Court finds that Plaintiffs’ testimony clearly establishes that the state’s maintenance of limited absentee by mail voting imposes a burden on their right to vote. The burden on the right to vote is further supported by significant record evidence," Dick wrote.

“Today’s ruling is a huge victory not only for the health and safety of the people of Louisiana, but also for their voting rights and our democracy,” said Governor Edwards in a statement after the ruling.

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A recent disagreement between Governor John Bel Edwards and the Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin had resulted in the election voting being relegated to the way elections were held prior to the pandemic. That comes after two summer elections included increased access to early and mail-in voting in deference to the pandemic.

“Simply put: COVID-19 remains a serious problem in Louisiana and voting should not be a super spreader event,” Edwards added in his statement.

The individual voters were joined by the Louisiana branch of the NAACP and the Power Coalition for Equity & Justice, a voter rights group. The Plaintiffs argued in Harding v Edwards that fear of catching the easy spreading COVID-19 would prevent a large number of voters from participating in the Nov. 3 election and the Dec. 5 runoff, where needed.

Ardoin and state Attorney General Jeff Landry countered that absentee balloting is a concession, not an absolute right and that no study has shown that in-person voting has led to a spike in infections.

"We have received and are currently reviewing Judge Dick's ruling," Ardoin said. "A decision as to how to proceed will be made after careful consideration of the facts is weighed with the fact that absentee voting currently underway for some voters, and early voting mere weeks away."

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