Zurik: Inaccurate Orleans voter records spurred settlement in recall petitioners’ lawsuit
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A consent judgment approved by an Orleans Parish Civil District Court judge has reduced by 5,000 the number of signatures needed for a recall petition against New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell to be successful.
The agreement signed Wednesday (March 1) by Judge Jennifer Medley settled a lawsuit brought by recall organizers against Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters Sandra Wilson and Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin. The suit alleged that numerous errors had left the number of registered and active voters on New Orleans’ rolls artificially high. For a recall election on the mayor to be triggered, organizers must have collected signatures from 20 percent of the city’s eligible electors.
According to the final document, the number of qualified electors in the city when the recall petition was filed last Aug. 26 had been considered to be 249,876, but will now be considered to be 224,876 -- a reduction of 25,000.
That means the petition will be considered successful if it collected 44,976 valid signatures.
Ardoin says the agreement applies only to the Cantrell recall matter and that no voters have been disenfranchised or purged from the rolls. He also says the agreement to adjust the qualified elector total by 25,000 was not an arbitrary decision.
“I am comfortable with that number,” Ardoin said. “That gives us the amount of people that were moved from active to inactive in the last canvas. And then, had we run a second annual canvas -- if the governor hadn’t vetoed my legislation -- then that number, that estimate, that we have matches and brings us close to that number. Which is much lower than what the petitioners were asking for.”
Election officials, Cantrell recall organizers reach agreement on number of active voters in Orleans Parish
According to exhibits submitted to the court in support of the lawsuit, a Georgia-based company -- Peachtree Data -- found as many as 31,064 addresses of people in Orleans Parish who shouldn’t be considered active voters.
That includes 544 people that recall attorneys reported are deceased. Another 9,084 who moved out of Orleans Parish. And 21,436 who, according to their data, have moved out of state.
The data does indicate some people on the voting rolls have been gone for quite some time.
According to the Secretary of State, Kim -- we’re not identifying her last name -- is an active voter in Orleans Parish. But the recall exhibits show she last voted in Orleans Parish in 1985. The records show the 63-year-old woman moved to San Francisco in 1997, but has remained listed as an active voter in Orleans Parish.
Another example: A man named Christopher, who last voted in 2004, before Hurricane Katrina, and put in a change-of-address form in 2013 to Brentwood, Calif. The Secretary of State records show he also is an active voter in Orleans Parish.
The exhibits include an obituary of a woman, Mrs. Emily -- again, we’re withholding her last name. She would be 116 years old right now and Secretary of State records show her as an active voter in New Orleans. Even though her obituary shows she died in March 2006.
And the exhibits include some signed recall petitions, where it was noted some members of the household had moved out of state. In this example, to Florida. Geoffrey, whose last name we are withholding, is considered an active voter. But his family noted he moved to Florida. We’ve confirmed through online searches that he lives in Jacksonville.
While these examples raise questions, it would be impossible for anyone to verify 25,000 voters in a short period of time.
“I don’t feel like it’s arbitrary,” Ardoin said. “I feel like we’ve come to a real number that means something. We came up with a solid figure, given what the history has been from the last canvas, what the estimate might be if we had the second annual canvas. I feel like we were able to bring a closure to this for the people of New Orleans, so that they can -- if there’s a certification and the number is correct -- then it will go to a vote when the governor calls the election.
“Nobody’s status is changing whatsoever. This is just a number. The same type of process that I would have gone through in August, when we came up with the original number, and now we’re just 25,000 less than that.
“We are going to go through the information and the data that the petitioners have. They’re going to turn it over to us and my Elections Division and my Elections Compliance unit investigators are going to go through that and do a deep dive and examination of that information. And we’re going to produce a report for the registrar, also for legislative leadership and for the New Orleans City Council.”
An official petition to recall Mayor LaToya Cantrell has been filed
In a news conference Wednesday, Cantrell described the recall effort not as a referendum on her job performance but as a scheme to disenfranchise voters.
“It’s evident this recall is just not about me. It’s about the disenfranchisement of our voters, particularly black voters,” Cantrell said. “It’s something that should alarm every voter in this community. It is a matter of civil rights in my opinion.”
Ardoin said, “No one is being moved from active to inactive. No one’s being removed from the voter lists, either. It’s just a number by which we’re basing the recall effort on. That’s it. It’s just a calculation for the recall.
“Once we do a full examination of the information that the petitioners have put forth, then we’ll make a report to the registrar for her to act upon what we find. ... The registrar has to work the data and information that we provide from all these reporting agencies. If that’s not done, then that’s how mistakes are made.”
Ardoin said Cantrell remains free to challenge the settlement, though she showed little interest in getting involved to this point.
“She has the opportunity,” he said. “She obviously had the opportunity to intervene in this case and chose not to. My guess is she’s got some plans laid out and we’ll see how things unfold. But I think what we’ve done is our due diligence and provided a service to the people of Orleans.
“We’ll see if the certification brings the numbers and then see what unfolds from there. But a long, drawn-out case, I think, would have been a disservice to the people of Orleans.”
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