Charlene Menard, the registrar of voters in Lafayette Parish, got an email during the presidential election from a woman who wanted to know if her grandmother’s vote had been counted.
After checking the records, Menard wrote back to inform the caller that no, the vote wasn’t tallied. Her grandmother had been dead since 2005. “I think it was just somebody trying to see if someone voted in her place,” Menard said.
Across Louisiana, voters chose to cast their ballots by mail in the Nov. 3 election at unheard-of rates. In all, 167,416 people voted by mail in Louisiana. That shattered the previous record of just over 63,000, set in 2016, even though state officials did only a modest expansion of mail voting during the pandemic.
Early voting is underway for the Dec. 5 runoff election to choose between candidates who did not win outright on Nov. 3.
After two days off for Thanksgiving and Acadian Day, early voting resumes for one more day: Saturday. As of Tuesday night, 73,396 voted early, 24,412 of whom mailed their ballots. That’s ahead of the pace in the December 2016 runoff.
The use of mail ballots has exploded in Louisiana and across the country during this election cycle despite widespread allegations of fraud and preelection worries that the Postal Service couldn’t keep up.
Local election officials in Louisiana say they have no evidence of fraud involving large numbers of votes, and relatively small numbers of ballots being disqualified.
“That’s when you just shake your head about Facebook and Twitter claims of fraud that are completely baseless,” said Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court Louis Perret.
In East Baton Rouge Parish, the state’s largest, more than 19,000 voted by mail, but only 107 ballots were completely rejected, according to Registrar of Voters Steve Raborn. That was fewer than the number tossed out in the summer elections, where turnout was far lower.
In Orleans Parish, Registrar of Voters Sandra Wilson said 234 ballots of the more than 14,000 who voted by mail were rejected.
Nearly 8,700 voted by mail in the Republican stronghold of Lafayette Parish, where Registrar Charlene Menard said 172 ballots were disqualified.
And in Jefferson Parish, Registrar Dennis DiMarco said 202 of more than 16,000 mail ballots were rejected.
Those ballots weren’t disqualified for nefarious reasons, officials say. Instead, the vast majority had to be tossed because voters, most of whom were older than 65, forgot to sign or provide a witness signature, which is required.
A handful were disqualified because they were received after the deadline — usually because they were dropped in the mail a day or two before the deadline.
“We did not see any fraud with the surge in mail in ballots,” said Perret, of Lafayette Parish. “The system works.”
“I was surprised the rejection (number) was as low as it was,” DiMarco said.
Ardoin’s office said along with the 167,416 who voted by mail, another 34,853 requested an absentee ballot but ended up voting in person instead. Under 20,000 requested an absentee ballot but did not vote at all, Ardoin spokesman Tyler Brey said.
Ardoin said he couldn’t comment on the limited instances of potential voter fraud in the election, and he doesn’t yet have a tally of complaints lodged. Usually, it’s a small number.
“If it was something broad scale I think it would already be out there, already major accusations,” Ardoin said. “None of that happened in Louisiana.”
Officials who oversaw the processing and counting of the historic levels of mail ballots say the process went mostly smoothly for several reasons. For one, voters in the highly divisive election usually made sure they were filling out the ballots correctly. If they didn’t, government officials would call them to ask them to come “cure” their ballot, or fix the mistakes, which many did.
They were able to complete the count of the huge number of ballots on election night, they say, because lawmakers passed a law allowing them four extra days before the election to process the ballots, and they received additional staff. After working a long day Nov. 3 sequestered in their offices, officials finished their work, unlike other states that were still counting weeks later.
Louisiana offered people impacted by the pandemic the ability to get mail-in ballots if they met several specific criteria, including those experiencing symptoms or caring for someone with COVID-19. The expansion was done at the direction of a federal judge. Republican lawmakers, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin and Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards couldn’t reach a deal on an emergency plan.
Still, only a few thousand used those COVID-19 excuses. The vast majority of mail-in voters were 65 and older, people who are always eligible to vote by mail.
According to the final statistical report on the election, Louisiana saw 70% turnout in the Nov. 3 election, the highest since 1996.
Raborn, of East Baton Rouge, spent a 12-hour day with his election workers on the 8th floor of City Hall on election night, where they were sequestered to his offices to count mail votes. In addition to the rejected ballots, some had to be duplicated because voters selected multiple candidates for president. The duplication allowed Raborn to count the rest of the ballot’s selections.
But they didn’t experience anything nefarious, Raborn said.
“If you asked any of the registrars of voters in the other parishes they would say the same,” he said. “The whole process was rife with integrity. Folks in elections burned the midnight oil and did everything possible so voters would have an opportunity to vote.”
Almost 1,000 people in Lafayette Parish who received a mail ballot chose to vote in person, Menard said, mostly because they said they didn’t want to “take that chance” with the postal service. Menard said she did have an issue with a nursing home who moved its residents, leading to mail ballots being returned undeliverable. Only 84 ballots arrived after the deadline, she said.
In Jefferson Parish, only 69 ballots were tossed because they arrived after the deadline, DiMarco said.
As in much of the U.S., Louisiana had a partisan split between early ballots and Election Day voting, according to Baton Rouge pollster John Couvillon. Trump’s lead was 53%-46% in Louisiana’s early and mail period, compared to 63%-35% on Election Day. He won Louisiana’s electors on a 58%-40% vote over President-elect Joe Biden.