Louisiana’s top elections official says he’s concerned about declining voter participation. But he opposes the most obvious reform that could fix the problem, saying no one in the state is being kept from voting.
Promoting his state’s Voter Registration Week, Secretary of State Tom Schedler (pictured) recently lamented that an upcoming race for state treasurer won’t hit 20 percent turnout. Schedler put the blame for low voter turnout on “partisan news media” turning people off.
“You may hate the issue. You may hate the candidates,” Schedler, a Republican, said at a recent Rotary Club event. “But can we all agree — not Ds, not Rs, not red states, not blue states — that we ought to at least go vote.”
Louisiana ranked around the middle in voter turnout for last year’s presidential election, with 60 percent of eligible voters participating.
But when Schedler was asked at that event about automatic voter registration (AVR), in which people are automatically registered to vote when they come in contact with state agencies like the motor vehicles department, he seemed to give it a clear thumbs down.
“Bring me a person in Louisiana that feels voter suppressed; that he or she cannot register to vote — there’s someone blocking you from doing that. And then after you register, that someone is blocking you at the precinct, that you can’t vote,” Schedler said, according to WRKF radio. “It’s quite frankly just the opposite. It’s voter depression, not suppression.
Schedler’s response is confused. AVR’s advocates don’t frame it primarily as a means of fighting active voter suppression. Rather, they say, it’s simply a way to make registering to vote much easier, especially for marginalized communities who may not understand the process, with little downside.
Oregon, not noted for voter suppression lately, adopted automatic voter registration in 2016, and it saw a larger jump in turnout last year than any other state. Seven other states have since implemented the system or are in the process of doing so.
Schedler didn’t immediately respond to a request to clarify his views on AVR. The state’s governor, John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has expressed support for the idea.
Last week, Louisiana was found to have deliberately discriminated against black voters in its election system for a judicial district, though the case involved how districts are drawn, not the ability to actually cast a vote.