Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Federal Voting Rights Complaint Filed on Early and Absentee Voting for Upcoming Municipal Elections

The Louisiana Justice Institute has sent a letter of complaint to alert the U.S. Justice Department to a violation of the Voting Rights Act that will substantially curtail the opportunity of New Orleans voters to cast early and absentee ballots in the February 6, 2010, Municipal Primary Election as well as the March 6, 2010 Municipal General Election.

Mayor Ray Nagin announced on December 17, 2009, that City Hall and most other city buildings and offices quartered in those buildings would be closed from the close of business each Thursday through Monday morning.

Since City Hall will be closed on Fridays and Saturdays under Mayor Nagin’s budget implementation plan, the Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters Office, the primary early and absentee voting location, will be closed for 3 of the 7 scheduled days of early and absentee voting, resulting in a substantive change in voting procedures that requires pre-clearance from the U.S. Department of Justice under the provisions of Section V of the Voting Rights Act. The Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters Office in City Hall is the most centrally located site for early voting, and the location most familiar and accessibly by public transit for New Orleans voters.

Neither the City of New Orleans or the State of Louisiana has petitioned the U.S. Department of Justice for pre-clearance of this substantive change in voting procedures, which would have a disparate impact on minority voters.

In the last major election, the November 4, 2008, election for President of the United States, more than 17,000 voters cast early or absentee votes during the 7 days of early voting. Of the total of 17,006 early and absentee ballots cast, African American voters cast approximately 73 percent, while African Americans comprised only 62.5 percent of registered voters for that election. “This change in voting procedures is a clear violation of the Voting Rights Act,” said Tracie Washington, Managing Director of the Louisiana Justice Institute. “The Louisiana Justice Institute and other community organizations are calling on the mayor and city council to comply with the law and immediately reverse this thoughtless, pennywise and pound foolish budgetary measure to restore full access to early and absentee voting to all registered voters in New Orleans.”

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