COVID-19 didn’t just disrupt our lives, it disrupted our democracy. And the Nov. 3 election is speeding toward us. We’re taking questions from readers to help navigate a historically complicated election.
Reader Question: Who is ensuring that the vote I cast is accurately counted in Lafayette?
The short answer is a body I’ve never heard of: the Lafayette Parish Board of Election Supervisors. Every parish in Louisiana has one, and it’s the job of each board to sign off on votes and make sure they count.
Each board is made up of five members:
- Parish Clerk of Court
- Registrar of Voters
- Democratic Party representative
- Republican Party representative
- Governor’s appointee
Counting in-person votes — either cast early or on Election Day — is pretty straightforward, especially in Louisiana. Louisiana operates a statewide voter registry that’s used to match up every vote cast with a registered, eligible voter. When the final vote is cast, a poll worker pops out a cartridge and delivers it to the courthouse where it’s uploaded to the state’s voter registry for verification.
Votes at most risk of not counting are mail-in ballots. And to be clear, that risk is very low.
Louisiana has operated mail-in voting for two decades and, as with the dozens of others states that do it, without much trouble. But the process does introduce more opportunity for user error.
Mail-in ballots in Louisiana are submitted in a security envelope nested inside a mailing envelope for voter privacy. (Fun fact: U.S. soldiers often vote by fax and sign a waiver on their right to secret balloting. You can’t really accept a blind fax.)
In nearly all cases, mail-in ballots are disqualified for one of three reasons: voters forget to sign the ballot, they don’t include a witness signature or they detach the security flap that seals the privacy envelope.
Most of the time, the Registrar of Voters — who is responsible for both early voting and mail-in voting — catches the errors in time to contact the voter to fix the problem and “cure” the ballot. Otherwise it doesn’t count.
So far, more than 10,000 mail-in ballots have been submitted in Lafayette Parish, says Registrar of Voters Charlene Meaux Menard. Around 100 need to be cured.
There can be irregularities on ballots. Sometimes voters only vote on one item like the presidential election — that’s called “undercounting” — or maybe their marking isn’t clear. It’s up to the Board of Election Supervisors to figure that out by vote. And its decisions are almost always unanimous, according to Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court Louis Perret, who serves as the board’s president.
Perret does expect more mail-in ballots to be discounted this year. But that’s only because so many more mail-in ballots will be cast, so far about five times the typical volume.
The bottom line: Mistakes do happen, but Perret is confident in an accurate count.
“In Lafayette we have a very good, well-deserved reputation for free, fair and open elections,” he says. “I feel very safe that the mail-in ballots will be counted accurately and fairly. If someone was truly was corrupt and fraudulent, the district attorney will prosecute them. And they have been procescuted. But it’s miniscule.“