N.O. voters to decide on at-large election change - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

N.O. voters to decide on at-large election change

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New Orleans, La. - In a dispute that some say had racial overtones, tensions ran high back in May when the City Council first tackled the question of whether to change the city charter.

Then-councilman Jon Johnson and Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell walked out of the council meeting May 3 after the vote for the ordinance, which would stagger elections for the two at-large seats, ended in a tie.

They didn't return until a month later when virtually the same measure was reintroduced.

"Once they came back, council members just voted on it and said, we'll just do it that way," says Ed Chervenak

On Tuesday's ballot, voters will decide if council at-large members will be elected on separate ballots instead of one.  Under the current system, candidates for both at-large seats run in the same field, allowing voters to cast ballots for any two.

"Critics point out that some voters go strategically and cast a ballot for one person and that groups could basically rally around that individual and get that person elected," says Chervenak.

The way it is now, the top two finishers are elected if they get more than 25 percent of the total votes.  If not, there's a run-off.

With the proposed changes, separate at-large races would require a candidate to get more than 50 percent of votes in the primary or the runoff to win.

"There's some sense that this has racial overtones. Some feel since this is a majority-black city we should go to elections with 50 percent plus one, so that we could get more African-American representation on the council," says Chervenak.

That, though, doesn't necessarily mean changes anytime soon if the proposition passes. Both current at-large members are white and each won in a runoff by defeating a black candidate.

It's a proposition that caused controversy for months among council members but now voters will have the final say.

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