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Louisiana: What to Do to Ensure Your Vote Counts in the 2020 Election

Everything you need to know, including key deadlines, how to vote safely, and more.

Grace Han/Thrillist

We’ve learned a lot in 2020, but few things have been as clear as this: Every single voice matters. In Louisiana, between the pandemic, the resulting havoc wrought on our tourism- and gas-fueled economy, the growing call for criminal justice reform, and Hurricane Laura’s devastation, there are a lot of messes our elected leaders will have to clean up in the coming years. And that’s exactly why you need to make sure your vote gets counted in the 2020 election (regardless of whether you get a Blue Dog “I voted” sticker to show for it). Don’t worry. We’re here to make sure you know how to make your vote count.

What’s the deadline to register to vote in Louisiana?

You’ve got until October 5 to register in person, but you have until October 13 if you can register through the Secretary of State’s GeauxVote system. If you’re registering by mail, the postmark date must read no later than October 5.

How to register to vote in Louisiana

You can register online or change an existing registration through the state's GeauxVote system. If you choose that option and want to submit electronically, you will need a current Louisiana state ID. You also shouldn’t do it between 1-4am every day because that’s when the Office of Motor Vehicles schedules routine web maintenance. 

If you’d like to register in person, you’ll need documents to prove your age, residency, and identity. These include a current Louisiana driver’s license, birth certificate, a special Louisiana ID, or proof of a social security number. If you don’t have those, you could use “other documentation which reasonably and sufficiently establishes your identity, age, and residency,” according to the Secretary of State’s Office, like “a picture ID, a utility bill, payroll check, or government document that includes your name and address.”

To register by mail, download and print the Louisiana Voter Registration Application or the National Mail Voter Registration Form. Fill one of them out and mail it to the Registrar of Voters Office in your parish. 

You’ll know your registration was received and processed correctly if and when you receive a voter registration card by mail. If you don’t, contact your local Registrar of Voters. Want to just know if you’re registered? Use the Secretary of State’s Voter Search to access your Voter Portal, which will confirm your registration and offer a one-stop-shop for details about your polling place, your early polling place, a sample ballot so you can arrive prepared on the big day, an option to print your voter registration card, and dates for upcoming elections. 

Can I vote early?

Election Day is November 3, but early voting is available between October 20-27 (but not October 25) from 8:30am-6 pm, and you do not need a special reason to do so in Louisiana. You can vote early at the Registrar of Voters Office in your parish, or any of these locations. Your local options are also available in your Voter Portal, which is accessible through the Secretary of State’s Voter Search.

When you vote early, you’ll need to show a photo ID or a signature on a voter affidavit. This ID could be a Louisiana driver’s license, a Louisiana special identification card, a United States military identification card, or another generally recognized picture identification card printed with your name and bearing your signature.

Can I vote by mail?

While no one in Louisiana needs a reason to vote early, you must have a reason to vote by mail. Gov. John Bel Edwards and Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin are at odds over this in the face of the pandemic. What follows here are directions as of September 9, but these may change thanks to a federal lawsuit over Ardoin’s voting plans, which currently calls for the below methods to also include those who have confirmed cases of COVID-19. (Edwards is pushing for absentee ballots to also be made available to those who are at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 because of medical conditions, are quarantining or have been advised to, are symptomatic of COVID-19 and seeking medical confirmation, or are caring for someone who is quarantining.)

Members of the armed forces or overseas voters don’t need a special reason to vote absentee, but other voters will need to qualify for one of the following reasons: status as a senior citizen, temporary absence from the state, a job offshore, residency in a nursing home, living elsewhere for your or your spouse’s higher education opportunity, a job with the clergy, a move out of the parish less than 30 days prior to the election, an involuntary confinement, hospitalization, incarceration, enrollment in an address confidentiality program, or jury duty. Those who have a disability or are homebound can also apply.

How do I vote absentee in Louisiana?

You can request an absentee ballot online through your Voter Portal by clicking “Request Absentee Ballot” through the Quick Links section. To make this request by mail, you’ll need either the Military or Overseas Application Form, the Disabled Application Form. or the General Application Form

Military personnel, those who are overseas, and those who are hospitalized have until 4:30pm the day before the election to request their ballot by mail. Those using the general application form have until 4:30pm on the fourth day before election day. Make sure the signature on your application matches the signature on your voter registration file.

Mailed ballots can be returned by mail, by fax (only upon request through your local Registrar of Voters), or by hand to the Registrar of Voters. If dropped off by another party, they’ll have to sign a statement stating their relationship with the voter.
The deadline for mailed ballots to be returned to your local Registrar of Voters is 4:30pm on the day before Election Day. For military personnel and those overseas or hospitalized, the deadline is 8pm on Election Day. 

Is there a way to track my mail-in ballot? How can I make sure my absentee ballot is counted?

The Louisiana Secretary of State's "Vote by Mail" information page points absentee voters to this website for tracking the status of their absentee by mail ballot. 

As for making sure you absentee ballot is counted, there are a few major steps you can take: carefully follow all of the instructions that come with it, meet the deadlines for each step of the absentee voting process, and make sure your signature matches what's on file in your voter registration. Additionally, it's always a good idea to avoid damage to your voting materials so that your ballot isn't thrown out on some sort of technicality.

How can I stay safe while voting in person?

The state’s focus has been primarily on whether mail-in voting will get expanded. But for those who plan to vote in person, the CDC has issued some safety guidelines to avoid potentially contracting the coronavirus while exercising your civic duties. They include wearing masks, socially distancing while in line, and hand-washing. If you’re unfamiliar with your polling place, it might also be a good idea to visit during off-peak hours, if possible. 

Here's a rundown of what the CDC recommends:

  • Wear a mask. 
  • Keep a distance of at least six feet from others at all times.
  • Wash your hands both before and after leaving your polling location.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol frequently throughout your time inside the polling place, especially after you touch things like door hands, voting machines, and other surfaces that lots of other people touch.
  • If you cough or sneeze, cover them with a tissue or the inside of your elbow. Dispose of the tissues in a lined garbage can, then use that 60% alcohol hand sanitizer again. 
  • Don't try to disinfect the voting machine or equipment yourself because you may end up damaging them with cleaners and disinfectant products. This is where hand sanitizer comes in again. Use it right after you touch the voting equipment, and if you use it before you touch the equipment, make sure your hands have dried first. 
  • Try to vote when your polling place isn't as busy. This might involve driving by and checking to see how long the line is.
  • Verify that you're registered to vote before you leave home and make sure you bring any documents you'll need to avoid complications that could result in spending more time inside the polling place.
  • Bring your own black ink pen for marking your ballot, or your own stylus (just check with a polling place worker before you use it). 
  • If possible, fill out a sample ballot at home that you can use to speed up casting your ballot at the polling location. 

Additional Louisiana voting resources

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Chelsea Brasted is a freelance writer in her hometown of New Orleans, where she formerly worked for The Times-Picayune as an arts and entertainment reporter and city columnist.