Louisiana SoS Race Enters Final Stretch

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Election Day is this Saturday in Louisiana, and there is a race for Secretary of State, where incumbent Tom Schedler (R) faces challenger Chris Tyson. It’s a race that hasn’t attracted much attention, but the candidates are highlighting key differences between them as the vote approaches. The Baton Rouge Advocate has more:

The secretary of state’s race pits Republican incumbent Tom Schedler against political newcomer Democrat Chris Tyson, with the job of the state’s top elections official on the line.

The 40-year-old Tyson argues for change and new blood from someone in the younger generation who has opted to stay in Louisiana and make things better. “We need a secretary of state who is going to be visible, active, engaged in the community, working zealously.” And that describes him, Tyson said. Schedler stresses his experience and record of running a department that’s been nationally recognized for improvements in the elections and business arena — the latter a new one-stop shop where companies can register with multiple state agencies in one place.

Schedler is seeking a second term in the office, which also oversees corporate filings, state archives and some museums, including the Old State Capitol.

It’s no time for change in leadership, said the 65-year-old Schedler, who is president of the National Secretary of States Association.

“He’s a challenger. I get it. He’s very well spoken, very smart, very educated, but this, in my opinion, is not an entry-level position,” said Schedler, a former state senator who was first assistant in the office prior to assuming the top job. “You have to know something about the state budget, the whole process of elections. We are getting ready to go into a presidential (election) year. It’s hardly time to start from scratch.”

Experience aside, the candidates also differ on the proper role of the office:

It’s in the elections arena where there is the sharpest contrast between Schedler and Tyson, particularly when it comes to expansion of voter registration opportunities.

Eighty-five percent of eligible voters are registered — one of the highest rates in the nation, but voter turnout is lagging, Schedler said. During his tenure, Schedler notes Louisiana’s move to online voter registration — the second state in the U.S. to do so — as well as introduction of a first-in-the-nation GeauxVote mobile app and its corresponding GeauxVote.com website — making election information more accessible to voters.

Schedler points to the Pew Charitable Trusts’ ranking Louisiana 18th in the nation in election performance. “We are moving up steadily from the 30s because of things like online registration and the app,” Schedler said.

During his tenure, Schedler also reduced the number of elections in an effort to boost voter turnout and cut costs. Too many elections lead to voter apathy, he said.

Tyson said Louisiana is not doing enough to register voters. Allowing same-day voter registration at the polls would boost election turnout, which has been lagging, he said.

Tyson also said universal registration could bump up voter rolls even more. Currently, for instance, people can register to vote when they go to the Office of Motor Vehicles to get a driver’s license. Under Tyson’s proposal, the person would automatically be signed up unless they opt out.

“Mr. Schedler opposes. He says it’s going to lead to voter fraud,” Tyson said. But Louisiana has a voter ID law, he said, which protects against fraud.

Schedler said Louisiana does not have the technology in place to allow people to register to vote at the polls and getting it would be costly. The state also would have to go to a provisional ballot so election results could be delayed perhaps as long as a week, he said.

But beyond that, there needs to be some kind of personal responsibility, Schedler said.

Tyson has also sought to make lawsuits against the state on NVRA compliance an issue of both participation and cost:

Tyson said the first thing he would do as secretary of state would be to end “wasteful spending” on a lawsuit alleging voter registration deficiencies. He talks of Schedler’s office spending $1.3 million in conjunction with lawsuits filed by the Louisiana National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and others alleging that the state violated federal law by failing to properly provide voter registration services to public assistance clients. Tyson said the money could have been spent upgrading voting equipment

Schedler defended his office against the claim, saying he could only support and train employees who work in agencies where he has no control.

One lawsuit has been ruled on by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which found Schedler’s office was in substantial compliance. The other identical lawsuit is still languishing in federal court with little movement.

Schedler said Tyson inflated the legal fees — including five different lawsuits over the same number of years.

Saturday’s election is the “blanket primary”; if no candidate receives 50% a second “general” election will be held November 24. The SoS race hasn’t attracted much attention outside of Louisiana – the two candidates have spent less than $1 million combined – but like any race for chief state election official the outcome could have tremendous impact on the state’s election system going forward.

Stay tuned …

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