Louisiana secretary of state visits Bogalusa Rotary Club

Published 8:13 am Friday, August 17, 2012


Tom Schedler, Louisiana’s Secretary of State, was the guest speaker at the Rotary Club meeting on Tuesday at Bogalusa Country Club. Schedler, who is currently on a speaking tour of Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, as well as Chambers of Commerce, had a wealth of information about what’s new and cutting edge in his office in Baton Rouge.

Schedler, who was sworn in as secretary of state in November of 2010, was formerly the assistant secretary of state and had previously served three terms as a state senator beginning in 1996. Also a real estate broker, Schedler currently is president of the Slidell Rotary Club.

“The secretary of state is the chief elections officer for the sate of Louisiana and we don’t do elections by ourselves,” said Schedler. “We do it in conjunction with registrars of voters and clerks of court in each and every parish, the clerk being elected and the registrar being appointed.

“We think we do a pretty darn good job of that,” continued Schedler. “We have been recognized by the Pew Foundation as being one of the top five states in the country, and that surprises some folks, because if you go back 30 or 40 years, obviously our reputation is not so stellar,” said Schedler, with a smile.

What many people don’t know, he said, is that in Louisiana, 84 percent of those who are eligible to be registered to vote are registered voters.

“That’s the fourth best in the country,” Schedler said proudly.

But, he said, what the state doesn’t do as well is getting good voter turnout. He promised that his office is working diligently to try to improve that.

“One of the things you’re going to see unveiled in just the next few weeks is “Vote for a Veteran.” People ask me, ‘What can you do to get better voter turnout?’ said Schedler, adding that he’s come up with an idea to help do just that.

“It’s almost an embarrassment that we as Americans don’t exercise our right to vote more than we do. So I came up with the slogan “Vote for a Veteran” and we’re going to do a little bumper sticker or something that will acknowledge who that person is you’re dedicating your vote for,” he said.

Continuing talking about voter turnout, Schedler said that because Louisiana already has 84 percent of eligible voters already on the rolls, if just 50 percent of them came out to vote, that would be 42 percent voter turnout.

“Can anyone remember the last election in Louisiana where we had 42 percent turnout? You’ve got to go back a long ways, almost to the last presidential election,” he said.

The presidential election coming up in November was brought up, and Schedler urged everyone to vote early if at all possible, due to the fact that the election will be on a Tuesday, a work day, and the polls will be crowded at certain times, such as before work, at lunchtime and after work.

He went on to say that Louisiana holds too many elections, with 70 being held between 2005 and 2010, the second highest number in the country, actually nearly double the next on the list which is Georgia, at 38, then Florida at 35 and North Carolina at nine. A bill was passed to force elections that are being held just to fill vacancies to wait until the next available election. That change alone would have cut the 70 elections down to 38.

“We want to take a look at local initiatives and elections and propositions to see if we can work on that further, Schedler said. “We’re going to see what we can do to consolidate some elections. I know we can save money and hopefully improve voter turnout.

Schedler believes that Louisiana suffers from voter fatigue from so many elections. “The more elections you have you minimize the importance of what that election may be and folks are just get tired of doing it. We’re going to be working diligently to try and improve that.”

One exciting new use of technology that has come to the secretary of state’s office, said Schedler, is the use of smart phones to dial up everything one needs to know about his or her voter registration.

“We were the first state in the country to be able, on a smart phone, to plug your name in, put your name in and it gives you exactly how you’re registered to vote at the registrar of voters office. You go to my site, geauxvote.com, and it gives you a map, a GPS map, directly to your precinct, which is very important due to reapportionment that happened last year. And lastly, you can pull up your individual ballot, in the comfort of your home, your living room or your office, to review it, to familiarize yourself and hopefully minimize your time in the voting booth.”

The Secretary of State’s office is also responsible for filing for new businesses. Schedler has opened another website, geaux biz.com, which allows those who want to start a new business to find an automated checklist of what is required locally, in the parish and in the state to start any type of business.

“You put your name in, the address, look up the code (from a drop down menu) for the type of business, and it will give you everything the city requires — application, permits — and what the parish needs and what every state government office needs,” Schedler said. “You can find out everything you need to do to open up your business.”

His office is now working on a system to collect all the information needed for applications, permits, etc., so that people can come in and provide the information required one time only.

“We think it will be a great service. There are about four states that have implemented it already,” he said. After visiting two of the states, Schedler believes that Louisiana will be able to learn from the mistakes of other states and get the system implemented in Baton Rouge within the next 12 to 18 months or so.

As time wound down, Schedler took questions from the floor, including inquiries regarding the upcoming presidential election, particularly the voter ID laws.

Schedler noted that Louisiana was the third state in the country to required picture IDs. However, he said, Louisiana allows any voter to go to his precinct and ask to sign an affidavit, saying he is without his ID for whatever reason. A commissioner will ask some specific questions, such as date of birth, mother’s maiden name and other identifying factors which will be verified on the spot. The affidavit will be signed by both parties and the person will be allowed to vote.

“In the last presidential election,” Schedler said, “about an average of 23 affidavits were signed per parish, and we did an audit after the fact on 50 parishes and found not one discrepancy in signatures or who that person was. “That’s the secret why we have not been challenged, he said.

Schedler also noted that voting hours have been changed for state elections only. Voting starts at 7 a.m. instead of 6 p.m. and goes until 8 p.m. For federal elections the start time is still 6 p.m.

“We have the second longest voting day in the country,” he said.