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Louisiana voters go to the polls in election delayed twice by COVID-19

Barbara Kalbfleisch / Shutterstock.com

(The Center Square) – Louisiana finally will hold an election Saturday that has been postponed twice because of COVID-19 related health concerns.

Election day arrives as the state’s coronavirus case load is spiking again after being flattened considerably in May and June. More than 2,600 new cases were reported Friday, one of the biggest single-day increases since the pandemic began.

The ballot includes a presidential preference primary, a rare instance of a party-specific primary in Louisiana where most primaries are open to all parties. Though President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden are assured of winning the Republican and Democratic nominations respectively, both parties see the vote as important in showing the enthusiasm on their side.

“Yes, we all know who is going to win the Republican presidential primary in Louisiana, but it’s important that all voters registered as Republicans get out and vote to show our support for our President,” state GOP Chairman Louis Gurvich said in an email to party members. “The press takes notice of such things, and a poor turnout will make the news!”

State Democrats crowed about “record-breaking” turnout during the early voting period. More than 103,000 Louisiana Democrats voted early, compared to 53,019 in 2016 and 20,896 in 2012, the party says.

“Election data shows that nearly 40,000 more Democrats than Republicans showed up to vote early in this primary election,” said state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, who recently announced she is stepping down as chairwoman of the party. “Louisiana Democrats are energized, unified around defeating Trump, and in a strong position ahead of November.”

Voters in some jurisdictions will cast ballots in local primary elections, headlined by state House District 54 where six Republicans are vying to replace Reggie Bagala, who died in April from COVID-19-related complications. Voters in 24 parishes may have a local election, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin says.

Saturday’s election and another scheduled for next month are being held under an emergency plan intended to minimize public health risks. Early voting was extended from seven days to 13, polling locations were moved from senior centers, and new reasons to request an absentee ballot were allowed on a temporary basis.

Polling commissioners will be supplied with personal protective equipment and will regularly sanitize designated areas and wipe down voting machines, Ardoin says. Hand sanitizer will be provided to voters and masks are recommended but not required.

Critics say the emergency precautions don’t go far enough, though a lawsuit to overturn the plan was unsuccessful. Some voting rights advocates argued all voters should be allowed to cast their ballots by mail.

“Louisiana voters will head to the polls because they could not qualify for an absentee ballot, including voters who may have COVID-19, but tested positive or started experiencing systems after the absentee ballot application deadline passed,” said Caren Short, senior staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “All these voters must choose between exercising their fundamental right to vote and risking their health, the health of a loved one, or the health of their community.”

Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Anyone in line at 8 p.m. will be allowed to vote.

Voters can find their polling location and sample ballot by downloading the GeauxVote Mobile app for smartphones or by visiting www.GeauxVote.com.

Voters are asked to bring a valid ID, such as a Louisiana driver’s license, Louisiana Special ID card, a generally recognized picture identification card with name and signature such as a passport or a digital license via LA Wallet. Those without an ID still can cast a ballot, though they will be required to fill out an affidavit.

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