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Reactions to voter roll changes bring suspicion on Orleans

In the use of statistics, when gathering cases to study some phenomenon, if a case appears to deviate from the pattern observed with other cases, one calls this an “outlier” and, if an isolated incident, one writes it off as dues to some idiosyncratic factor unlikely to be repeated in other observations. But if it happens again, you begin to wonder if there isn’t another factor involved causing it to deviate from the others. By this account, citizens interested in the integrity of elections in Louisiana should begin to wonder about how the Orleans Parish Registrar’s office does it job.

Recently, a Democrat-affiliated interest group called Voting is Power has flooded parish registrars with materials for new and changed registrations, although most have been concentrated in four parishes in neighborhoods that are disproportionately black: Jefferson, East Baton Rouge, Orleans, and Caddo. The group’s strategy appears to be two-fold: get as many names on the voting rolls as possible who are likely Democrat voters regardless of the legality of the registrations or, failing that, to overwhelm certain registrars hoping that they become more likely to allow questionable registrations through.

Even if the group denies this, those excuses ring hollow because of the extraordinary proportion of bad registration cards turned in to Jefferson, East Baton Rouge, and Caddo. The group even claims it pays canvassers by the hour, not by the card, reducing temptations to make up phony cards. These registrars estimate anywhere from a third to two-thirds were invalid and only some could possible be certified through obtaining follow-up information. Many were clearly fraudulent, such as having the same name at different addresses with almost identical information on each.

But the exception was Orleans, where the registrar there Sandra L. Wilson insisted few forms were bad and was approving most of them. So maybe Orleans just got much better canvassers (or more honest ones) working there for VIP and created far fewer problems so it’s just an outlier …

… except this isn’t the first time we’ve see the Orleans Registrar coming up with registration results far different from the rest of the state’s parishes. Last year, Secretary of State Jay Dardenne went through his legally-required exercise of purging voters who appeared to be registered in another state. When presenting all parishes with the names of a little less than 20,000 voters who appeared to be dually-registered, of the around 13,000 names outside of Orleans, efforts of registrars elsewhere found few people that could be reinstated.

But in Orleans, it was exactly the opposite. Of the roughly 7,000 names in Orleans, Wilson ended up disqualifying only 124 – and keep in mind that if there was any parish where you would have expected to see the vast majority of dual registrations hold up, it would be Orleans given that, except for St. Bernard (which reinstated almost no names), a higher proportion of its population got displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 than any where else with many of them going out of state.

Consider the situation: in a matter where parishes have the option of reinstating to vote names vetted by the Secretary of State, for other parishes almost no names are put back on their rolls except in Orleans where almost every name is. And in the matter where parishes are asked to add names from a questionable source, in other parishes many are disqualified while almost none are in Orleans. To a social scientist, discovering this would lead one to suspect there is another dynamic at play that would have to explain the radically different philosophies that seem to be present in letting people on voting rolls. To the layman, these differences exhibited by Orleans smell fishy.

From a statewide perspective, the apparently questionable integrity of the Orleans rolls, whether by design or accident, could have an unfortunate impact in at least one fall election. While it is highly unlikely that it would affect an expected easy win for Sen. John McCain for presidential electoral votes, probable nominees Sen. Mary Landrieu and Treasurer John Kennedy for Senate for the Democrats and Republicans, respectively, are expected to be locked in a close battle. It would be a shame if numerous names of questionable status in Orleans are allowed to determine the outcome of this election, much like many believed happened in 1996 when Landrieu narrowly was elected initially.

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