New Orleans spurns voting rights, NAACP charges

The New Orleans primary election set for April 22 violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act, NAACP President and CEO Bruce Gordon has charged.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has assailed the Justice Department for allowing New Orleans to proceed with the election and is considering filing a lawsuit to block it. “The rights of African American voters will be severely harmed if the election is held as planned and scheduled,” said Gordon.

New Orleans had a population of 485,000 in the 2000 census, two-thirds of whom were Black. Hurricane Katrina caused the displacement of nearly 300,000, the majority African American. Today the population is estimated at 190,000.

Because of its historical record of racial discrimination, under the Voting Rights Act Louisiana must receive pre-clearance from the Justice Department before making changes in any of its voting practices and procedures.

On March 7 state Sen. Cleo Fields asked the department to deny pre-clearance for the April 22 election, saying illegal changes in voting procedures have been made. Of the city’s list of 442 voting precincts for the April 22 election, 300 in mostly Black neighborhoods have been demolished or are uninhabitable. The secretary of state has not informed registered voters where they are to vote or what the voting procedures are, though he has promised to do so.

The state opened and closed the candidate qualification period without properly informing all New Orleans citizens, Fields charged. The secretary of state refuses to provide any group, individual or elected official contact information for displaced New Orleanians, said Fields. He said he has been unable to contact his displaced constituents, nor can any candidates.

Displaced New Orleans voters have less than 60 days to request an absentee ballot, receive it, fill it out and mail it back. There is no procedure for displaced new voters to register. The state has refused to set up satellite voting sites outside of Louisiana. There are 10 satellite sites in Louisiana, but tens of thousands of New Orleans citizens are in Texas, Georgia, Mississippi, Colorado and other states. The Metropolitan Organization, a Houston community advocacy group, says there are 45,000 New Orleans registered voters in Houston.

Fields estimated that 50 percent of African American voters will be disenfranchised unless satellite sites are in place. Noting that the federal government set up satellite voting sites so that Iraqi citizens living in the U.S. could vote in the recent Iraqi election, he said the same should be done for displaced New Orleans voters.

Fields called for postponing the election until Sept. 30, the date scheduled for statewide elections, allowing more time to remove the obstacles facing African American voters and all New Orleans voters.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson will lead an April 1 march in New Orleans to call attention to concerns about marginalization of its Black communities.

In the April 22 primary 24 candidates are running for mayor. Only two are Black — Mayor Ray Nagin and the Rev. Tom Watson. The white candidates include Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, whose father was mayor years ago and whose sister is U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.