Schedler: Legislators should react minimally to Voting Rights Act decision

MORGAN CITY, La. — Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler wants state legislators to react minimally in the next legislative session to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to repeal part of the Voting Rights Act by focusing on maintenance of the election system instead of partisan politics.

Schedler was the speaker at the St. Mary Parish Chamber of Commerce’s Business Luncheon Wednesday at the Petroleum Club of Morgan City.

Schedler does support the Supreme Court decision based on “stale data,” he said. However, he does think Congress should revisit the issue and see if there are areas where pre-clearance is still needed.

Entire states should not be penalized if there is one county or parish that needs to be pre-cleared by the Department of Justice, Schedler said.

Before the Supreme Court’s decision on June 25, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 required states to be pre-cleared by the Department of Justice before they made redistricting changes, Schedler said.

Schedler referenced Louisiana’s voter identification law saying it is “vastly” different than some other states’ laws.

“The laws that have been challenged in other states for disenfranchisement say if you don’t have a photo ID at the point of voting, you can’t vote,” Schedler said. In Louisiana, if someone is registered to vote and loses their photo ID or does not have the ID for whatever other reason, the election staff can look up to see that the person is a registered voter, he said.

The person then is asked to answer some identifying questions, such as, birth date and social security number. The voter finally signs an affidavit and is allowed to vote, Schedler said.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 used data that is no longer up to date, and with its decision two weeks ago, the Supreme Court told Congress to revisit the formula used to determine where pre-clearance is still needed, he said. Congress can then decide if it wants to rewrite that formula but to do so based on more current data, Schedler said.

In 1965, 80.5 percent of whites registered to vote and 31.6 percent of blacks registered to vote, he said.

In 2004, white voter registration fell to 75.2 percent and black vote registration rose to 71.4 percent, which was the data used by the Supreme Court in its recent decision, he said. Schedler said that gap is probably even closer today. In 2012, there was 69.6 percent white participation, and 67.8 percent black participation.

Louisiana was one of the original six states in that act that was eventually expanded to parts of 15 states, he said. “Louisiana certainly had a very checkered past in that regard,” Schedler said. However, Louisiana is now moving in the right direction, and Schedler wants to continue to do so, he said.

As chief elections officer for Louisiana, a role the Secretary of State’s office took over in 2004, Schedler said the state has too many elections and needs to consolidate more elections.

From January 2005 to December 2010, Louisiana had 70 elections. The secretary of state and legislative auditor compared that number to 31 states, and Louisiana would nearly double the highest with Georgia in second with 38.

Thirty-two of those elections were just to replace a legislator who didn’t finish a term, he said. It costs roughly $1,250 per precinct to hold an election, he said.

The Legislature introduced a bill in 2010 that did away with all special elections for legislators unless a legislative seat can be replaced prior to a session, the vote be certified, and the individual go vote in a session, Schedler said.

Besides saving money by having fewer elections, Schedler also thinks having fewer elections may increase voter turnout, he said. Schedler said that there are instances when special elections are necessary.

“The more you have of something, the less importance people put a value on that. The less you have of that, I think people would take more importance,” Schedler said.

There are “no excuses” for not voting in Louisiana, Schedler said. The state has a week of early voting, “very liberal mail ballots, and the longest voting day in the country,” he said.

Louisiana is ranked third in the country in eligible voters registered to vote. Eighty-four percent of eligible voters are registered, and Louisiana was the second state to offer online voter registration.

The Secretary of State’s office also has a commercial division, which is the second most important thing they do, Schedler said.

Seventy-eight percent of commercial business with the secretary of state’s office is done online, he said.

The office now hosts a Geauxbiz.com that gives a checklist of permits and applications entrepreneurs looking to start a business need to fill out.

The office is “a great data collector,” he said. The secretary of state now does the farming report for banks to collateralize crops, he said. They operate 17 museums, which is the most vulnerable part of his budget, because it is the only non-constitutionally protected part, he said.

The office is also the state archivist responsible for keeping state records and has one of the largest genealogy libraries, he said.

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