Louisiana’s Republican-controlled legislature and Democratic governor have agreed on a series of minor improvements to voting access in the past two years. But an extreme gerrymander of the congressional districts has made representation of the state’s growing Black population less equitable.
Louisiana is one of four states this year that will be using a redistricting map courts found discriminates against Black voters. In a shift from precedent, a right-wing majority of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the maps could be used pending what is expected to be a landmark review of redistricting cases this fall.
Chief U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick had ruled in June that the map likely violated the federal Voting Rights Act. Dick ordered the Louisiana legislature to add a second majority Black district.
Nearly one-third of Louisiana’s voting-age population is Black. Black residents make up more than 50% of the state’s largest metropolitan areas, Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The Black voting age population has increased by 4.4%, according to the 2010 census. Yet the state’s new congressional district map includes just one majority-Black district among its six seats.
The Louisiana legislature, controlled by Republicans, drew the map and then overrode a veto by Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards.
“This map is simply not fair to the people of Louisiana and does not meet the standards set forth in the federal Voting Rights Act,” Edwards said in a press release at the time. “The Legislature should immediately begin the work of drawing a map that ensures Black voices can be properly heard in the voting booth. It can be done and it should be done.”
Early voting expanded with bipartisan support
Beyond redistricting, Louisiana has charted an atypical path since the 2020 presidential election for a state with a legislature dominated by Republicans.
Edwards successfully vetoed a bill that would have banned outside grant funding from private foundations that help with the cost of local elections and another that would have made the state’s voter ID law more complex.
He signed numerous tweaks to state election law that received bipartisan support, the most significant of which expanded Louisiana’s early voting period in presidential elections by four days and made a number of provisions to ensure access to voting in case of a hurricane or other disaster.
Other legislation adopted since 2020 allows voters to spend up to 6 minutes in the ballot booth instead of three if the ballot is lengthy or complicated; increases the pay of poll workers from $50 to $150 a day; requires public schools to offer high school seniors the opportunity to register to vote using school computers; requires the secretary of state to come up with a uniform system for “ballot curing” — giving voters the chance to correct mistakes that lead to rejection of an absentee ballot.
Louisiana permits a limited number of exceptions to vote by mail. An excuse must be signed by both a witness and the voter. Fear of contracting COVID-19 wasn’t an acceptable excuse in the last general election.
A federal judge in Louisiana ruled before the 2020 presidential election to permit mail-in voting for people with conditions that the CDC says are more vulnerable to COVID-19, and the ruling also applied to their caretakers.
Louisiana’s secretary of state Kyle Ardoin opposes COVID-19 being an excuse for mail-in voting.
Amid an increase of COVID-19 cases in 2021, Ardoin said he wouldn’t submit an emergency pandemic plan for upcoming elections. People with conditions that are more vulnerable to the virus couldn’t use that as an excuse for 2022 elections either.
About this series
This project looks at the state of voting access, voting rights and inequities in political representation in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.
After Hurricane Ida, voters in Louisiana’s most damaged parishes had difficulty keeping up with polling place changes. A Center for Public Integrity analysis of 2016 voting in East Baton Rouge found it had a disproportionate impact on Black voters.
Edwards signed a series of bills passed with bipartisan support this year addressing such situations.
HB 357 allows the president of any parish to change the location of a polling place due to an emergency. The parish president has to notify the secretary of state of the change.
HB 1065 requires the secretary of state to keep an updated record of primary election polling places on its website. It also requires parishes to report all polling place changes to the secretary of state.
HB 646 prepares the state for voting during an emergency such as a hurricane or a pandemic. It requires the secretary of state to determine alternative ways for people who evacuated to vote. This bill also expands the types of medical professionals a voter can call on to prove they have a disability.
SB 258 permits the secretary of state to provide early voting at times and locations accessible to any voters affected by an emergency. Before this change, the secretary of state could conduct early voting for only displaced voters and only at parish registrar offices.
In 2019, 37,000 Louisianians who were previously convicted of felonies had their right to vote restored. While Black people are nearly one in three of the state’s voting-age population, they represent 62% of voters whose rights have been taken away because of felony convictions.
Louisiana passed a law last year clarifying that only people convicted of felonies who are incarcerated are prohibited from voting. Previously, language in the state constitution had been interpreted as also applying to people who had been sentenced only to probation.
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