A state Senate committee killed legislation Wednesday that would have cut one hour off election day voting.
The Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee deadlocked 4-4 on the measure pushed by Secretary of State Tom Schedler and opposed by labor unions.
House Bill 209 would have started voting at 7 a.m. instead of the current 6 a.m. and still ended voting at 8 p.m. for all Louisiana elections, except the federal elections that are held on Tuesdays. Those would have stayed 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. The change would have started Jan. 1.
The federal election day provision had been added as the measure sponsored by state Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge, cleared the House. Schedler said he was not enamored with the different hours but went along in an effort to get the legislation passed.
It is not unusual for commissioners to work 15 to 16 hours on election day “for not that much voter turnout,” Schedler said.
“I made a commitment to (poll) commissioners that I would try to shorten their day,” Schedler said.
Schedler said Louisiana and a couple of other states have the longest election day in the U.S. He said voters have plenty of opportunity to cast their ballots with elongated early voting as well as election day.
“We still give people 79.5 hours to vote,” Schedler said. “If you can’t find time to vote ... I would suggest you just don’t care to vote.”
Schedler said an analysis of trends shows just over 2 percent of Louisiana voters go to the polls during the first hour.
Labor union officials said the change would deprive working men and women of an opportunity to vote, particularly those who do 24-hour shift work.
“If they don’t have that first hour, they are not able to vote,” said Louis Reine, president of the Louisiana AFL-CIO. He said the same people also don’t have the ability to take advantage of early voting.
“To limit people’s ability to vote is a bad deal,” Reine said.
State Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, said he has been a legislator for 17 years and at one time many people opposed legislation shortening voting hours.
But now, Walsworth said, only the labor unions are saying “we need to keep the longest hours” in the nation. “Little by little, everybody now understands it’s a problem.”
Voting FOR the legislation: state Sens. Walsworth; Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville; Jonathan Perry, R-Abbeville; and Robert Kostelka, R-Monroe.
Voting AGAINST the measure: state Sens. Jody Amedee, R-Gonzales; Ed Murray, D-New Orleans; J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans; and Greg Tarver, D-Shreveport.