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15.11.22

On voting, Bossier head goes from pan to fire

The Gospel tells us why it’s important that the Bossier Parish Police Jury, Parish Administrator Butch Ford, and parish Registrar of Voters Stephanie Agee follow the law: “Whoever is faithful in small matters will be faithful in large ones; whoever is dishonest in small matters will be dishonest in large ones.”

On Oct. 19, this space posted a piece about how the Jury didn’t appear in compliance with R.S. 33:1236.1 that dictates that the equivalent of a parish administrator must be a registered voter in that parish, when early this year it hired Joe Edward “Butch” Ford, Jr. for the position. At the time of publication, and since 1985, Ford had been registered to vote in Caddo Parish, Precinct 115.

On Oct. 21, Secretary of State records show Ford registered in Ward 04 Precinct 09 of Bossier Parish. As such, insofar as that statute and the Jury’s obligation to follow it goes it now is compliance with the law, 10 months late.

He appeared to register similarly to an address his father registered at in 2015. Online public records aggregators do not indicate that either owns that property, which in 2016 was the site of a contractor whose incorporation since has lapsed. Nor do Bossier Parish Assessor records indicate ownership by either.

However, that doesn’t really matter because Ford may be in violation of R.S. 18:101, which reads, “B. For purposes of the laws governing voter registration and voting, ‘resident’ means a citizen who resides in this state and in the parish, municipality, if any, and precinct in which he offers to register and vote, with an intention to reside there indefinitely. If a citizen resides at more than one place in the state with an intention to reside there indefinitely, he may register and vote only at one of the places at which he resides. If a person claims a homestead exemption, pursuant to Article VII, Section 20 of the Constitution of Louisiana, on one of the residences, he shall register and vote in the precinct in which that residence is located” (emphasis added).

As of Nov. 14, Ford, with his wife, continued to claim a homestead exemption at the property in Caddo, where she still is registered to vote. There is no penalty for an invalid registration, although R.S. 18:193 mandates that a registrar who “[G. 1.] ... has reason to believe that the name of a person has been illegally or fraudulently placed upon the registration records … shall immediately notify the person. (2) The notice shall state the alleged irregularity in the registration and shall inform the person that he must appear in person at the office of the registrar of voters within twenty-one days after the date on which the notice was mailed to show cause why his name should not be removed. (3) If the registrant fails to appear within the required twenty-one days, the registrar shall cancel his name from the list of eligible voters. If the registrant appears and shows cause within the twenty-one days, the registrar shall not cancel the registration.”

This puts the ball in Agee’s court to maintain the integrity of the parish’s voting rolls. Otherwise, R.S. 18:565 could come into play, where “A commissioner, watcher, or qualified voter may challenge a person applying to vote in a primary or general election on the ground … [t]he applicant is not qualified to vote in the precinct,” which could lead to “[t]he commissioners present shall determine the validity of the challenge. If they determine by majority vote that the challenge is valid, the applicant shall not be permitted to vote.” If she does and the process plays out that removes Ford’s registration, the Jury is back to violating the law with this employment as parish administrator.

Ford could put all of this to rest by declining to declare the Caddo Parish property as a homestead, leaving him free to register wherever although he still could face a challenge as to whether he genuinely resided at his registration address. To do this, statute suggests his wife would have to become sole owner, which would retain the exemption and tax benefits that go along with it but would require some paperwork time and expense.

The liberties Ford has taken with the law in this matter are relatively minor. Certainly, they pale in comparison to situations where a public official misuses taxpayer resources such as Democrat New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell has with airfare and living accommodations, about which citizens rightfully are outraged. Some even may argue it’s something to which the world should turn a blind eye; if, in this instance, the guy appears qualified to do the job – who apparently was the only candidate considered by the Jury for it – why pursue adherence to seemingly minute details?

 But citizens also should feel concerned when elected and appointed public officials flout the law even when it has no direct connection with the people’s daily lives, because these officials affirm oaths to uphold the law and are placed in positions of public trust. If you can’t trust them to maintain fidelity with the little things, it raises questions about their trustworthiness in pursuit of greater things that may have far more consequential impacts on the public weal.

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