The state is preparing to use paper ballots on an emergency basis in the fall 2012 elections in which the presidential race is the top contest.
It’s because of an explosion of split precincts in the wake of redrawing of election districts that resulted in 400 one-machine locations.
State Elections Commissioner Angie Rogers said the paper ballot would be in play if the locations’ sole machine quits functioning.
“This is a way to keep voting going until we can get the machine back up and running or another one delivered. It’s a temporary voting method so voting is not interrupted,” said Rogers.
Rogers said there are plenty of safeguards built into the use of paper ballots with the procedures developed in consultation with clerks of court and registrars of voters.
“We have an audit report that commissioners fill out. Whatever goes out comes back in and is accounted for,” Rogers said.
The paper ballot procedure has been implemented via emergency rule so commissioners can be trained by clerks of court in advance of elections, Rogers said. The Secretary of State’s Office puts together the election package for all ballots and they are put in the back of the machine.
“We are looking at 16,000 paper ballots,” Rogers said.
There are some 40 parishes with split precincts where there is one machine. North Louisiana parishes have the most one-machine precincts. Lincoln tops the list with 64 one-machine precincts and Morehouse has 32. Red River has 18 precincts — all of them with one machine each.
In south Louisiana, Vermilion has 23 one-machine voting precincts; Evangeline, 16; West Feliciana, 10; East Feliciana and Iberville, 9 each; St. John and Pointe Coupee, 8 each; St. James, 6; St. Helena and West Baton Rouge, 3 each; and Lafourche and St. Tammany, 1 each.
The state has 9,542 election-day voting machines of which 5 percent are kept as backup in every parish so they can be used in the event of a machine’s failure on election day, Rogers said.
Rogers said the precincts have small numbers of voters in them — from more than 100 in some to one voter in a precinct in St. Tammany.
Local election officials are encouraging voters in precincts where there’s only a handful of voters to vote early so they do not have to open and staff the precinct on election day, Rogers said.
“Prior to the 2010 census, all precincts in Louisiana had a minimum of two voting machines in each precinct. If one voting machine became inoperable, voters were still capable of voting on the other voting machine. As a result of reapportionment, Louisiana now has many split precincts where only one voting machine is available ... in the polling place for election day,” according to a statement from Secretary of State Tom Schedler about the necessity of the emergency procedure.
“The Department of State has found an imminent need to address paper ballot procedures for the fall 2012 elections for all the precincts in the state that have only one voting machine in the event that the voting machine in the precinct become inoperable on election day.”
The emergency rule stays in effect until after the elections. After that, the Secretary of State’s Office would have to move forward with general rule-making to keep the procedures in place for future elections.