Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal will soon present his plan to close a $1.6 billion budget hole created in large part by his massive tax cuts for the wealthy and tax loopholes for corporations. Jindal has already revealed that he plans to slash higher education, health care and coastal restoration funds to close that gap, but the fiscal crisis will also take its toll on elections in the state.
At a conference in DC earlier this week, Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler told ThinkProgress that thanks to the governor, he has to lay off staff, and can’t fix or replace the state’s aging stock of voting machines until at least 2017.
“We have one group of 20-year-old machines, the others are about 17 years old,” he said. “They’re so old that replacement parts aren’t even unavailable when they break. I can’t even get something as simple as laptops that we send out to the election registrars in our 64 parishes. Those are 5 to 6 years old and we’re starting to have some problems.”
He added that even relatively cheap solutions are off the table for now. “It’s $600,000 [to replace those laptops] which is not a lot of money in a $25 billion budget,” he said. “But in these times, it’s impossible to get that, so we’ll have to work through it. Of course, if all fails, we could go to a paper ballot.”
Schedler, a Republican, echoed Jindal in blaming the budget crisis on plummeting oil prices, saying the situation is “great for consumers at the pump but bad for coffers of Louisiana.” But he acknowledged the governor role in the current mess.
“Our governor is against any new taxes, and he has used one-time money predominantly over the past four or five years, so it really puts us in a box,” he said. “We found ourselves in an excess of a billion-dollar problem six months ago, only to find ourselves at a $1.6 billion dollar problem now!”
Schedler says he expects these issues to cause some delays for voters at the ballot box, and suggested the state save money by holding fewer elections. When a local council member or state lawmaker resigns, for example, he recommends the appointed interim person hold that seat for longer, delaying a special election until the next scheduled election in that area.
Sandra Slifer, the President of the League of Women Voters of Louisiana, told ThinkProgress this tactic could help save money, but she worries about its impact on voters. For example, she said, several state legislature seats are currently empty, and there is a special election later this month to fill them.
“If they don’t do a special election in February, and they delay it until the next scheduled primary in late March or even the general election in early May, it doesn’t make sense, she said. “I don’t think anyone is comfortable having a legislative session go by where people aren’t represented.”
In recent years, the state has been accused of problems in their election administration that has resulted in eligible voters getting purged from the rolls, as well as many voters being illegally denied their right to register to vote at public service agencies — such as the departments where residents can sign up for Medicaid and food stamps.
Secretary Schedler told ThinkProgress he hopes to find a “will and a way” to properly administer elections as his budget shrinks, but he acknowledged his plans fall far short of the comprehensive solutions and adequate funding his office needs.
“We’re Band-Aid-ing it,” he said.