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Louisiana voting rights suit dismissed, but still on appeal

May 13, 2021 GMT

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A lawsuit that resulted in a federal judge expanding early voting and mail balloting during last year’s presidential election in Louisiana was formally dismissed Thursday by a federal judge in Baton Rouge.

But it remained alive in a federal appeals court, where Republican state officials want to keep the battle alive.

Voting rights advocates got what they wanted last fall when U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick ordered the expanded voting opportunities during the coronavirus pandemic. Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, the state’s top election official, did not try to block the Sept. 16 order as the November election neared. But, he and Republican state Attorney General Jeff Landry are appealing, hoping the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will rule that Dick’s order was wrong.

The plaintiffs, including the Louisiana State Conference of the NAACP and the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, say the issue is moot. They argue that their lawsuit dealt only with the November and December Louisiana elections, and they have a right to have it dismissed. They filed a letter with the 5th Circuit Thursday noting Dick’s dismissal of the lawsuit.

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As of Thursday, appellate arguments were still set for the afternoon of June 7 at the appeals court.

The Republican leaders say the judge, in September’s order, took actions legally reserved for state lawmakers. Absent a ruling in their favor, they say in appellate court briefs, “this case—if not addressed by this Court—could become a roadmap for similarly timed future actions.”

Debates on how and whether to expand early voting and mail voting in Louisiana divided state officials for much of 2020 as the state contended with surges in the virus that causes COVID-19. Some expansions were eventually approved for summer elections.

Dick’s Sept. 16 ruling said the state’s failure to approve similar expansions for the fall elections was “likely unconstitutional because it imposes an undue burden on Plaintiffs’ right to vote.”