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Ater continues finding weak excuses to delay elections

It’s better, but still not good enough: Louisiana Secretary of State Al Ater still refuses to schedule New Orleans within the city charter’s specified time, citing a list of excuses as to why he thinks it’s so difficult. Let’s see if we can’t help him out.

Ater has three main complaints, (1) notification of voters about changes, (2) logistical difficulty in getting personnel to work the polls complying with the law and (3) assumed difficulties in getting U.S. Department of Justice pre-clearance (needed because of Louisiana’s inclusion in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which says that certain electoral changes need federal review). None are that big of a problem, or at least as big as Ater seems to make them out to be.

Louisiana’s election code is remarkably robust when it comes to dealing with exceptional circumstances. First, R.S. 18:401.2 allows for the relocation by the Secretary of any polling place under an executive order such as that granted already by Gov. Kathleen Blanco. This would make it easy for Ater to take New Orleans’ roughly 450 precincts and put them into a much smaller amount to recognize actual population and staffing realities. Along with that would be reductions in machines (which he can easily get on loan) and personnel given RS 18:425.1 and the cooperation of the Orleans Parish Election Board.

How few? RS 18:425 is helpful here; again, with the assistance of local officials it could be as few as three commissioners, with one in charge. So, what could be done is to consolidate to perhaps one-third the normal amount of location, and then require only 1,326 commissioners (considerably less than Ater’s articulated 2,000), one-third of which would be commissioners-in-charge. In a couple of months, this might mean 1,000 commissioners must be found not yet present and qualified.

But the law gives considerable leeway to the appointment of such commissioners. All you really have to do is be an adult and a resident of the parish according to RS 18:426, and go through training. That means you must be eligible to vote in that parish, and in Louisiana the time period on that (courtesy of U.S. Supreme Court rulings) is 30 days. There are at least a thousand state workers living in the parish, even if they just got there who would qualify, who all could be given a day off for registration in Orleans (if not already so registered) and for commissioner training, and then paid to work on election day, or even given another if there is a general election (in addition to their commissioner pay; think there’d be a problem in getting qualified volunteers for that sweet deal?)

(This of course will cost more money, but it’s worth it to maintain the integrity of the process. Note also that Ater has suggested getting the Legislature to waive the law about parish residency to import commissioners from other parishes, which would save the money and should face no difficulty in being done, especially through a special session.)

This is the main issue; the other two being minor to nonexistent. Ater creates a fictional impasse when he talks about voter notification of changes; RS 18:401.2 says all that must be done is notification at the old precinct location and as an additional specification voters may be informed through electronic media. These things will take almost no time and money; there’s no legal obligation to do anything further.

Ater also throws up a smokescreen when he talks about the federal role. His concerns about registrants-by-mail being unable to vote and location changes will not be challenged by the U.S. Department of Justice as voting rights infringements because it will recognize the emergency nature of the situation (that is, there is no intent to discriminate nor evidence that it would occur). It also will see as appropriate the notification as required by law. In fact, DOJ no doubt will make maximal efforts to protect the integrity of the process as well as voting rights, meaning the 60 days Ater mused might be necessary to get pre-clearance probably would be shorter, perhaps considerably so. That done, no legal challenge on these grounds could succeed.

Instead of finding reasons not to hold the elections within the May 1 charter deadline, Ater has to understand that, with minor cooperation of federal, state, and local officials there are plenty of reasons why these elections can be held within that deadline. He needs to get to work now on just such a plan so to present it to all parties at the beginning of the year; that’s why he gets paid the big bucks. Failure to do so either reflects poorly on Ater’s competence as secretary of state, or indicates he is not operating in good faith in the nonpartisan performance of those duties.

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