Election Ballot Yes and No Choices

The Louisiana Legislature will wind down its annual session in the coming days. Lawmakers filed hundreds of bills before the session started on April 10. Scores of those bills survived committee hearings. Dozens have passed the State House and/or the State Senate.

Thursday is the last day of this year's session, so lawmakers have a just few more days to make important decisions.

For example, some bills still under consideration call for propositions that to be added to the already lengthy ballot in the Oct. 14 primary.

It's not just the seven statewide offices up for grabs, though that alone will crowd the ballot. And it's not just the House and Senate races — plus the parish and municipal races just about everywhere outside New Orleans.

With Gov. John Bel Edwards unable to run again because of term limits, a large number of candidates hope to succeed him — including two who hold statewide office already: Treasurer John Schroder and Attorney General Jeff Landry. Two more statewide incumbents have chosen not to seek reelection: Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon and Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin. 

That means five of the seven statewide offices will have no incumbent running, which is bound to trigger a stampede of candidates for those offices. Candidates don't officially qualify until Aug. 8-10, but already it's a safe bet the October ballot will be crowded.

And that's before we even begin to list local propositions such as bond issues, new or renewed sales and property taxes and local charter amendments. All of which must be submitted by July 11 to be put on the Oct. 14 ballot.

Which brings us back to state lawmakers. They, too, can put propositions on the ballot in the form of proposed constitutional amendments, which are supposed to be presented in easy-to-understand language; each has a 200-word limit. 

"Since the ballot will consist of all statewide offices, the entire Legislature, local and parish elections, local propositions and constitutional amendments, it will be a very crowded election," according to a spokesperson for Secretary of State Ardoin. "The amount of 'real estate' on the full-faced, Election Day ballot is not just related to the number of physical buttons on the face of the device, but the amount of verbiage associated with propositions and (constitutional amendments)."

While legislators work to move bills through the House and the Senate, their staffs have been busy crafting the specific, oftentimes technical language of measures that their bosses intend to pass into law. That includes bills containing proposed constitutional amendments, which require voter approval in a statewide referendum.

According to Ardoin's office, by the end of the session this Thursday, lawmakers will have considered at least a dozen proposed constitutional amendments that could affect the length of the ballot on Election Day. Each must first garner a supermajority of two-thirds in both the House and Senate — a tall hurdle to clear.

For example, two bills that might appear on our October ballot are:

  • Sen. Beth Mizell's freedom of worship bill (SB 63), asks voters to say yea or nay to this question: "Do you support an amendment to provide that the freedom of worship in a church or other place of worship is a fundamental right that is worthy of the highest order of protection?"
  • State Rep. Jason Hughes' tax exemption exclusion bill (HB 46), asks voters to say yea or nay to this question: "Do you support an amendment to deny a property tax exemption to a nonprofit corporation or association that owns residential property in such a state of disrepair that it endangers public health or safety?"

Ultimately, "We the People" decide whether to amend the state constitution. But who wants to read the fine print? Who wants to get an absentee ballot or walk into the voting booth and see page after page chockful of verbiage that only summarizes the actual amendment? 

Our legislators and their legislative staffs can help us make up our minds by anticipating the impact of their actions on the ballot length and keeping track of the growing number of ballot items.

It's not too late to fix some of this by moving some of the proposed ballot items to the Nov. 18 general election. And let's look at improving our ballot-building process from top to bottom next year.

Email Will Sutton at wsutton@theadvocate.com, or follow him on Twitter, @willsutton.