July/August mail-in ballot procedure reinstated by Federal Court; three days added for early voting

Earlier today Chief Judge Shelly D. Dick of the Middle District (federal) Court of Louisiana partially granted the injunctive relief sought by four party-plaintiffs including Louisiana’s NAACP.  Judge Dick’s 44-page decision GRANTED the request to…

“make available the COVID-19 Ballot Application that was used during the July and August 2020 elections and to supply absentee by mail ballots to voters who validly request absentee ballots via COVID-19 Ballot Application in both the November 3, 2020 Presidential General and Open Congressional Primary Election and the December 5, 2020.”

Dick declined to “enjoin entirely the operation of the Excuse Requirement set forth” in Louisiana’s Election Code.

In a strongly worded decision the Court dismissed the arguments of Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin and AG Jeff Landry who intervened for the defense, writing:

It is well settled that citizens have a “strong interest in exercising the ‘fundamental political right’ to vote,’”194 “[t]he public interest therefore favors permitting as many qualified voters to vote as possible. Defendants assert that “the public interest favors conducting the elections under restrictions less or as restrictive as Louisiana’s normal election procedures,”195 which the Court can only assume was a misstatement on their part, since the entire premise of their Opposition to the injunction is that instituting a less restrictive election regime would unleash chaos.

In their Post Hearing Brief, Defendants imply that an injunction by this Court would impermissibly invade the legislative sphere, wondering “why would any elected official engage in the hard work required to pass a law, when they can convince a federal court to do ‘whatever it chooses to do’? The work of Louisiana’s lawmakers, even when that work bears little fruit, should not be so cavalierly cast aside.” The Court rejects the insulting notion that the significance of the issues presented are in anyway treated cavalierly.

Although determining the “Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections” is undeniably left to the States, it is equally true that it is the Court’s duty to determine the constitutionality of state action. Defendants admit that Louisiana lawmakers’ efforts to regulate the fall elections have “borne little fruit.” The Court will go a step further: Plaintiffs have shown that the state’s failure to provide accommodation for pandemic-affected voters is likely unconstitutional because it imposes an undue burden on Plaintiffs’ right to vote.

The Court declined plaintiffs’ motion “to increase the period of early voting for the November 3, 2020 Presidential General and Open Congressional Primary Election to thirteen days.”  Judge Dick did decree that Early Voting for the November 3 “shall run from Friday, October 16, 2020 to Tuesday, October 27” instead of October 20-27 as previously scheduled.  Excluding a Sunday, the decision adds three days to the period.

Requested changes in Early Voting for December 5’s regularly scheduled General Election were DENIED.