Jam-packed election causing new snags

Our View: 13 years later, we remember 9/11
September 9, 2014
Editorial Roundup
September 9, 2014
Our View: 13 years later, we remember 9/11
September 9, 2014
Editorial Roundup
September 9, 2014

When the doors closed on the candidate sign-up period for the fall elections, Secretary of State Tom Schedler said it seemed “crazier” than usual. A few days later, when he received the data, he understood why the three-day qualifying felt so slammed.

Louisiana has more offices up for election and more candidates on the November ballot than for any election over the last 23 years, according to a tally provided by Schedler’s office.

To make it even more complicated, the secretary of state is seeing significantly more objections filed to candidacies winding their way through the courts and more candidates dropping out of races after paying their filing fees.

The history-making election cycle is causing Schedler to consider recommending changes to the timeline for candidate sign-ups – and is certain to have names on the ballot in the Nov. 4 election of people who were deemed unqualified to run or have dropped out of the race.

“At some point we’ve got to pull the trigger and let that ballot go to print, and that’s it,” he said. “We already know that it won’t be cleared up by the time for ballots to be printed.”

Voters will be deciding dozens of judgeships, two seats on the state’s utility regulatory agency and 43 district attorney positions. Across the state, people will select mayors, school board members, police chiefs, city councilmen and other local officials.

At the top of the ballot is the U.S. Senate race, with Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu trying to win re-election amid tight competition, and all six U.S. House seats.

Overall, more than 2,400 offices are up for election, with 4,400 candidates signed up.

At least 60 contenders have withdrawn so far. Meanwhile, objections to 53 candidates’ qualifications were filed in court, including allegations that people don’t live where required to run for a specific office or that they have unpaid ethics fines and can’t run again.

“When I talk to people who have been around here 20, 30 years, no one can ever recall 53 challenges,” Schedler said.

The lawsuits seem to be a sign of the times, where opponents seek to have candidates thrown off the ballot as a means of defeating them. The tactic already has proven successful in getting some contenders disqualified.

About 10 weeks separate the close of the election registration period in August and the November election.

Because federal elections are on the ballot, tighter timelines kicked in governing the paper ballots sent to Louisiana voters overseas or members of the military stationed away from home. Schedler said those already went to the printer quickly after qualifying.

More ballots for the voting booth are being printed every day.

Any votes cast for a candidate who has been either disqualified or who formally withdrew from the race will not be tallied, Schedler said, taking away potential votes for other candidates.

Notices will be inserted with paper ballots identifying any candidates who are no longer in the race by Sept. 20, when the ballots are mailed.

At polling places, similar notices will be posted near the sample ballot and commissioners should direct voters to a list of candidates who should no longer be considered, said Schedler spokeswoman Meg Casper.

Also, sample ballots online and on the office’s mobile app will be up to date with the current slate of candidates, for those willing to do their research.

But the secretary of state thinks the experience with elections this fall warrants a larger change. He’s planning to ask state lawmakers next year to set the candidate qualifying period two weeks earlier, to give elections officials more time to get caught up with disqualifications and withdrawals, so the ballot can more accurately reflect the field of true candidates.

Pushback is expected from some lawmakers, who likely will view an earlier candidate registration period as creating a longer – and more expensive – campaign period. Schedler acknowledges that as a candidate for re-election next year, he’s not thrilled with the concept.

“This at least needs to be looked at, because our job is to make things easier for the voter, not more complicated,” he said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte covers Louisiana politics for The Associated Press.