New Orleans -- “There's clearly some fraud there,” state Representative Helena Moreno said.
Moreno, says, in her mind, the law is clear: voters must cast a ballot where they have a homestead exemption, even if Hurricane Katrina displaced them from their damaged home.
“All that I’m trying to do with this particular amendment is prevent fraud,” Moreno told us, “prevent people who are clearly living someplace else and just voting in another district to try to help their friends.”
Moreno, representing District 93 in Orleans Parish, says the legislature needs to change dueling laws on the books. “We know there needs to be tweaking to at least one of the laws, and that's what I’m trying to do now.”
Moreno's referring to a displaced voter law passed by the legislature in 2006. It allows displaced voters to cast a ballot in their pre-Katrina parish, as long as they haven't established a new domicile or changed registration to an address outside the voting district.
“Right now the way that the law is written, you could be living somewhere else for the next 20 years, and still come back to that particular district and vote,” Moreno said. “Doesn't make sense.”
Moreno has already drafted an amendment to the law. She'll introduce it in next year's legislative session. Her amendment says, after state of emergencies, voters can be considered displaced for only three years, or show proof that they're in the process of returning home.
“If you really have an intent to return back to that district, all you have to do is go to the registrar of voters in that district and show them proof that you are intending to come back,” Moreno told us. “And that could be whether you have a contractor working on your house.”
We've found dozens of voters in St. Bernard Parish who have homestead exemptions in St. Tammany and Jefferson Parishes.
“Now, six years later, you still have people saying that they could be voting in districts where they lived in before Hurricane Katrina, and people who clearly have established a residence or domicile some place that’s outside that particular district,” said Moreno.
Part of the confusion, though, could be blamed on the secretary of state's website.
Up until Thursday, the secretary of state's site said displaced voters could remain registered to vote at their pre-Katrina residence, as long as they do not register to vote in another parish or state.
“That's all it says. That's it,” notes Moreno. “It doesn’t say anything about that part of the law that says, if you establish domicile somewhere else, then you can't.”
Only Thursday, the secretary of state added the domicile part to its website and also clarified, you must register to vote using your homestead exemption address.
All of the confusion will be cleaned up this coming spring, if the legislature passes Representative Moreno's amendment.