Friday, February 10, 2006

Group Claims New Orleans Election Plans Hurt Blacks; Lawsuit Filed

ABC News
Group Sues Over New Orleans Election Plans
Group Claims New Orleans Election Plans Hurt Blacks; Lawsuit Filed
The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS - An advocacy group filed a federal lawsuit Thursday challenging plans for city elections in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans, alleging the process would keep blacks out of elected office.

The Advancement Project, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group that has been active in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, claims the plan relies too much on cumbersome absentee voting. Most displaced voters are black.

The group wants changes to the election plan, including polling stations outside the state.

Meanwhile, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People warned that it might organize protests and challenge the elections in court unless displaced voters are given greater consideration in plans to hold elections April 22.

"Everything is on the table," said John Jackson, the NAACP's chief policy officer.

City elections were originally scheduled for Feb. 4 but were postponed after Katrina smashed polling places, dispersed election workers and displaced about two-thirds of the city's population.

Among other races, voters will cast ballots for mayor. So far, the most striking aspect of that race is the number of prominent white business leaders and politicians who have jumped into the fray.

Incumbent Mayor Ray Nagin remains the only black candidate among more than half a dozen hopefuls.

Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, the son of former Mayor Moon Landrieu and brother of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., is considering a run. Moon Landrieu, who was elected in 1970 and left office in 1978, was the last white mayor.

"Everything reflects the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the demographics of the city," said Silas Lee, a New Orleans political analyst and pollster. "That impacted how many white candidates perceive their political fortunes."

Penda Hair, co-director of the Advancement Project, went further and charged that "there may be an effort to elect white leadership and create a city that is not welcoming to having the residents return."

State officials have been working to try to make sure evacuees can vote. Secretary of State Al Ater plans to send out nearly 1 million notices to tell displaced voters how to cast ballots by mail.

But Jackson said having displaced people cast ballots by mail may leave many people out of the electoral process.

Ater did not immediately return a phone call Thursday.

In the meantime, the state Legislature is working on bills that would make it easier for evacuees to vote. For example, one bill would set up polling places in cities around Louisiana.