Cantrell recall organizers file suit, claiming over 30,000 errors on Orleans active voter rolls

Published: Feb. 16, 2023 at 11:17 AM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Organizers of an effort to recall New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell have filed a lawsuit against parish and state voting officials.

The lawsuit, filed by Eileen Carter and Belden Batiste on Thursday (Feb. 16) in Orleans Parish Civil District Court, claims the list of active voters provided by Orleans Registrar of Voters Sandra Wilson and Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin is off by more than 30,000 names.

“The data presented in this pleading should be alarming and embarrassing to the citizens of Orleans Parish and to the State of Louisiana,” the suit reads.

Organizers say an independent analytics firm checked U.S. Postal Service change-of-address records against the Secretary of State’s voter roll and found thousands of people who had moved out of Orleans Parish or died that were never purged by the registrar and still remain on the active voters list. State law requires the registrar to purge voter rolls annually by June 30.

“This is evidence of Ms. Wilson’s failure to perform her duties to canvass under the law and Mr. Ardoin’s failure to supervise her,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit says recall organizers identified at least 546 deceased persons, 21,436 people who had moved out of the state, and 9,084 people who moved out of the parish and remain on the active voters list. Additionally, the firm found 1,601 people with addresses listed as “undeliverable” by the USPS, with no change of address provided by the residents. Another 121 people listed as active have “undeliverable” addresses, provided a change of address, yet still remain active voters at their original address.

The suit cites a few specific examples.

“Many of these addresses are vacant lots,” the suit claims. “There are no residents of vacant lots, yet many of these vacant lots are considered active voters in Orleans Parish.

“Inclusion of these persons who have moved or of vacant lots on the active voter list illegally increases the count of signatures required by the recall effort.”

The recall effort needs to collect signatures from 20 percent of “qualified” registered and active voters in the parish to trigger a recall election.

Organizers said in a social media post earlier this week that the effort was only 1,029 signatures away from reaching the petition’s goal of just under 50,000 signatures.

It was initially believed that the Cantrell recall effort would require at least 53,000 signatures to succeed. But as Fox 8′s Lee Zurik reported Feb. 3, that estimate may have been too high.

In the suit, organizers claim Ardoin’s office never sent them an accurate number of qualified electors, thus they were forced to rely on data from his website, which they say is problematic. The organizers sent out two mass mailers to over 130,000 residents.

“After extensive work canvassing and mailing out material for the recall campaign, it became clear that the number of active registered voters in Orleans Parish, as appearing on the Secretary of State’s website, was inaccurate,” the suit reads.

The alleged discrepancies in the numbers prompted recall organizers to hire an outside firm, Gulf Coast Resources, LLC, to analyze the voter data and determine the accuracy of the voter rolls in Orleans Parish.

“It was learned that the data which the Secretary of State relies upon to produce these numbers is input into a centralized database by Mrs. Sandra Wilson,” the filing continues.

The law states that Wilson’s office is supposed to conduct and complete a canvass of the names of the registrants by June 30 every year, and check the names and addresses against U.S. Postal Service information. The USPS then signs off on the canvass and deems it valid.

If a person is no longer believed to live in Orleans Parish, the name should be removed from the list of active voters, and an “address confirmation card” is to be sent to their last known address.

If the voter responds and has moved, their name is to be transferred to whichever parish in which they now reside. If they do not respond, their name is to be removed from the list of active voters until their address is confirmed.

The law also says the names of deceased people should be removed from the active list within 30 days of receipt of a death certificate. Parish health officials should notify the registrar’s office of all deaths in the parish by the 10th day of each month, and the registrar is tasked with searching obituaries for deceased persons whose voter registrations were not canceled.

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ZURIK: Fewer signatures needed to recall New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell

New Orleans newspaper will get names of Cantrell recall petition signees, but not immediately

The lawsuit claims these canvasses were not being done or that no documents exist to show that the requirements are being met and that names of deceased people remain on the list.

“The lack of accuracy of voters who are active versus inactive plays a detrimental role to the recall effort,” the lawsuit reads.

Fox 8 political analyst Dr. Robert Collins -- a public policy professor at Dillard University -- said it no longer appears to be an upset if the organizers succeed. They have utilized around $500,000 in donations that have helped fund a robust television, radio and internet advertising campaign, along with two targeted mailings to New Orleans’ residents homes.

“They’ve spent over a half-million dollars in this campaign,” Collins said. “It’s a well-funded recall campaign. When you have that kind of money to spend, you can get results.

“This recall campaign is better-funded and better-organized than any recall campaign that I’ve certainly ever seen in my career.”

Secretary of State spokesman John Tobler issued a statement saying:

“Secretary Ardoin and the Elections Division have made the integrity of voting rolls their highest priority and have championed the effort to add a supplemental annual canvass period for parish registrars of voters, which passed the legislature in 2021 (HB138 by Farnum) and was later vetoed by Governor John Bel Edwards. Our office supported this effort again in 2022 (HB35 by Farnum), which passed both houses of the legislature and was again vetoed by the governor.

Parish registrars are both constitutionally and statutorily tasked with the management of Louisiana’s voter rolls. Among the many tools that are available to them are lists provided by the Louisiana Department of Public Safety & Corrections and the Louisiana Department of Health.

There are a number of federal and state laws governing the requirements for registrars to remove a voter from the voter rolls, including matching data points for voters that moved to another jurisdiction, had a change in qualified status as a result of a criminal conviction, or have passed away.

The Secretary of State’s office maintains a policy of not commenting on active litigation and will not be offering further remarks on this matter.”

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