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Ardoin’s package of electoral laws includes proposals that have been rejected twice

Louisiana Republicans will seek the third straight year to enact new election laws, including two that Gov. John Bel Edwards had previously blocked.

Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin previewed his legislative package for the 2023 regular session, which begins Monday. The bills would provide “electoral integrity” for Louisiana, according to Ardoin.

House Bill 159, sponsored by Rep. Les Farnum, R-Sulphur, would require parish registrars to conduct an additional poll each year. In a voter solicitation process, the addresses of registered voters are verified by comparing them to government vehicle records.

Current state law requires registrars to conduct voter solicitation every year. The Farnum bill would double their work.

Winn Parish Registrar of Voters Bryan Kelley, president of the Louisiana Registrars of Voters Association, said an election is one way to keep electoral rolls as accurate as possible.

“The larger the community, the more work is required,” Kelley said. “It probably wouldn’t affect us that much…[but] some of your larger parishes, it is possible that it could affect them to some degree.”

Kelley said an election ad won’t immediately remove people from voter rolls, but it does start the process. Voters who do not confirm their address will be placed on an “inactive list”. If an inactive voter does not vote in two consecutive federal elections, the registrars must delete the voter registration.

“It takes a lot of the dead weight off our reels,” he said. “You don’t want to disenfranchise people, but you don’t want inaccurate roles either… It’s important to keep them as current as possible.”

Louisiana Progress Executive Director Peter Robins-Brown said this is the third consecutive year that the GOP Legislature has pushed this legislation forward. Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed the bill because there’s simply no need to run two campaigns every year, he said.

“It’s probably unnecessary and costly, but it’s not a real threat to voting rights,” Robins-Brown said.

The second proposal in Ardoin’s package is based on baseless conspiracy theories accusing Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg of trying to corrupt election officials.

The Louisiana Attorney General blocked millions of dollars in grants awarded to community employees

House Bill 311, sponsored by Rep. Blake Miguez, R-Erath, is a constitutional amendment that would ban election officials from accepting private donations to pay for things like tents, signs and other items used on election days.

The problem began in 2020 when the nonpartisan, nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) offered grants to jurisdictions across the country to help fund election costs in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan donated $250 million. The CTCL has also received funding from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Knight Foundation and Google, among other American companies and organizations.

Agreeing to receive the financial assistance, Ardoin first urged local court clerks and registrars to apply for the grants. Dozens of other counties and municipalities across the country had already received the donations.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, who accused Facebook and Google of having left-leaning agendas, later told those local officials they would be breaking the law if they accepted the money. Democrats said Landry’s interference was part of a conservative agenda to reduce voter turnout.

Miguez introduced legislation in 2021 aimed at “clarifying existing laws” to ensure accepting such donations would be illegal. At the time, he and officials from Landry’s office testified on the committee that it was already illegal for any electoral official in Louisiana to receive such grants, but they also argued that lawmakers should make such assistance illegal.

This year’s bill is markedly different as it hints at a connection between Zuckerberg and foreign governments. In previous years, the plain language of the bill banned donations from “for-profit or not-for-profit corporations.” This year’s version instead refers to such donations as “money, goods, or services donated by a foreign government or non-government source,” suggesting that foreign countries have attempted to corrupt local Louisiana election officials.

Edwards vetoed Miguez’s proposal in 2021, calling it an “unnecessary political ploy” and pointing to “overheated rhetoric.” The governor also noted that such a law would ban local nonprofits like the American Legion Halls or VFW chapters from delivering donuts to poll workers on Election Day.

However, this year’s bill is a proposed constitutional amendment that would bypass the governor’s veto and get from the legislature to the electorate.

The Senate failed to approve Miguez’s bill before the regular session was up last year.

Other proposals in Ardoin’s legislative package include:

  • House Bill 361, by Rep. Daryl Deshotel, R-Marksville, which would ban the use of TikTok on government devices or networks. Ardoin, Gov. John Bel Edwards and State Education Superintendent Cade Brumley have already banned the use of state devices.
  • House Bill 135 by Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Pineville, would ban registered sex offenders from serving as election commissioners. The proposal follows a recommendation from the State Electoral Committee.
  • House Bill 216 by Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Houghton, would allow military members and their dependents stationed in Louisiana to serve as commissioners of elections.
  • House Bill 174 by Rep. Julie Emerson would protect the personal, identifiable information of active-duty military members and their dependents requesting absentee ballots from being released in a public record request.