And Why This Recall Must Be Taken Seriously
Of those 105, a total of 73 resulted in a recall. That means that more than 69.5 percent of recall elections that have been held in Louisiana resulted in successful recalls of elected officials, while only 32 or a smidgen below 30.5 percent failed at the polls (including one that actually passed at the ballot box but was reversed by a judge because it passed by a razor-thin, one-vote margin). In other words, recall elections in Louisiana have been successful at a margin of more than 2 to 1
With a recall effort afoot in Orleans Parish, there has been much speculation as to what it could portend for the City, its leaders and its people. The answers vary depending on who’s sharing an opinion, which range from: “It’s a long shot with steep hurdles to climb” to “It’s picking up steam.” Some say it’s bad for the City, while others contend that it’s just what New Orleans needs. There’s is nothing to worry about. Or the Mayor is in trouble.
Many recall efforts fizzle and fail before they ever get off the ground, lending to the narrative that these exercises in democracy (or voter suppression) are often futile.
But here is what you really ought to know about recalls, specifically recall elections: They are not long shots; and they are not uphill battles—at least not in Louisiana.
When a recall petition is certified, approved and a recall election proclamation is made in this state, the odds are not in the favor, historically or statistically, of the elected official at the center of it.
Since 1966, 119 recall efforts have actually resulted in elections being called. I will subtract 13 of those because they were canceled or not held for one reason or another, including the four instances in which the subject of the recall resigned before the election. That leaves 106 recall elections that have taken place in Louisiana since 1966. Let’s remove one more for which there is no recorded result. That recall election was held again and is counted among the remaining 105 recall elections for which there are results at the ballot box.
Of those 105, a total of 73 resulted in a recall. That means that more than 69.5 percent of recall elections that have been held in Louisiana resulted in successful recalls of elected officials, while only 32 or a smidgen below 30.5 percent failed at the polls (including one that actually passed at the ballot box but was reversed by a judge because it passed by a razor-thin, one-vote margin).
In other words, recall elections in Louisiana have been successful at a margin of more than 2 to 1.
The Process and Why this Effort
Should be Taken Seriously
As for the recall process, the steps are arduous. But they are not insurmountable, as evidenced by the 119 called elections, with 105 of those actually taking place. In other words, it can happen.
A recall petition with “a clear statement of the reason or reasons for the recall” is filed with Secretary of State by the chairman of the recall committee. In the recall at hand, that step was satisfied on Aug. 26, with a petition filed with Sec. Kyle Ardoin’s office.
Organizers then begin collecting signatures. In this case, a successful petition must contain handwritten signatures of at least 20 percent of registered voters in the jurisdiction. That means at least 53,343 of the 266,714 registered voters in Orleans Parish need to sign the petition.
That might seem like a tall order, but anyone who does not want to see this recall happen should proceed with one assumption—recall organizers can get the signatures they need.
First, organizers of this effort are not pounding the pavement, knocking on doors and explaining their cause one-on-one to collect signatures. They might try to appear as if theirs is a grassroots, bottom-up effort, but the reality is that they have fashioned a well-organized machine funded by both individuals and businesses. They are using social media to spread rhetoric in support of the recall campaign. They are riding a wave of disenchantment with the Mayor fueled by pitiful political infighting and despicable negativity spewed by other elected officials, along with almost-daily negative news stories in local mainstream media.
In many cases, they are verifying voter status or helping residents register before they sign a petition. That’s smart. Stopping anyone not registered to vote in Orleans Parish from signing diminishes the likelihood that signatures will get thrown out. They are also using their website to solicit donations, to further reiterate their pro-recall rhetoric, and to publicize petition-signing “parties” held across the city. Hell, some in the local mainstream media are giving them a hand, announcing upcoming recall petition signing dates and time. About a dozen or so have already taken place, and another dozen of these events have been planned between Sept. 13 and Oct. 16. Additionally, they have wisely set out to, at least, try to collect 63,000 signatures – nearly 10,000 more than they need, just in case any are discarded in the certification process.
This is not a drill!
It’s a Numbers Game
Mayor Cantrell was re-elected easily last November, earning 65 percent or 48,750 of the 75,325 votes cast in that race. That also means that—with no clear or formidable challenger—24,575 people showed up to vote against her, casting their ballot instead for one of the 14 no-shot candidates. If 24,575 people were motivated enough to cast what amounted to “protest” votes against Cantrell, they just might be motivated enough to sign a petition.
Additionally, if 75,325 people voted in the race, its stands to reason that 191,000 or so voters (almost 72 percent of the registered voters in Orleans) stayed home all together. Low voter turnout is nothing new, but a mayoral race is still a significant ballot item that usually draws a little more attention and participation than it did last fall. General voter apathy is one thing. But nearly 10,000 more Orleans voters cast a ballot in the 2017 mayoral runoff between Cantrell and former judge, Desiree Charbonnet. If any of the voters that stayed home last fall did so specifically because they did not support Cantrell, but did not want to bother voting for one the 14 challengers, they might see a recall petition as an opportunity to do what they could not do last fall.
The bottom line is that even if the 48,750 voters that showed up for Cantrell last fall are staunch supporters that would never sign a recall petition against her, that leaves some 215,000 registered voters that didn’t vote at all or showed up to vote against her, knowing their votes would do no good. All recall organizers have to do is mobilize those folk or at least convince them to sign a piece of paper.
That’s why no one ought to assume that getting 53,343 signatures is impossible.
According to the recall website, they hope to collect 63,000 signatures—roughly 350 a day. One of the last publicized counts of collected signatures was tallied at 3,000 on Aug. 29, after a single petition-signing event in Lakeview reportedly resulted in the collection of 2,100 signatures, organizers have said. That means roughly 900 signatures had already been collected between the date the petition was filed and the Aug. 29 signing event in Lakeview.
If it’s true that organizers were able to collect a total of 3,000 signatures only three days after filing, that is an average of 1,000 signatures a day. By the way, recall organizers have since stopped announcing and are no longer publishing the signature count on the recall website. They have said it is because the count is changing too quickly to accurately update it. Sure . . . okay. Let’s just say that if this were a game of poker that is what is called holding one’s cards close to the vest.
Keeping the Lies Alive
Of course, 180 days is about six months; and in politics, that is a long time. Interest and enthusiasm for the recall campaign could wane. By February of next year, this whole recall thing could be a distant memory.
Or . . . with every publicized so-called misstep by the Mayor . . . with every single report of a carjacking or murder . . . with every misleading headline about the Mayor “refusing” to reimburse the City for flights when the truth is there is no binding legal ruling or clear policy that dictates she is considered a “city employee” who has to pay for first-class flights out of her own pocket, this recall effort will grow. That is what recall organizers are betting on. That is why they are buying billboards. That is why rich Uptown businessmen are decorating their houses with anti-Cantrell signs—to keep this recall and its distorted narrative on everyone’s mind.
And that is why The Tribune will continue to assert that this recall effort is not about Black New Orleanians or the quality of life issues it has grappled with for decades, such as a poverty rate that is three times higher than White New Orleanians or economic inequity that has resulted in a nearly $35,000 difference in the median household income between Black and White New Orleanians. New Orleans does have problems, and Black New Orleans has more than its fair share of inequity. None of this can be laid at the feet of LaToya Cantrell, especially not the crime problem that was exacerbated by the pandemic and has most certainly been worse than it is now. That is an irrefutable fact.
Once again, the mayor cannot stop crime. Not this one, nor the next. And police do not stop crime — not 100 police, not 1000 of them.
And the organizers of this recall know this.
With every publicized so-called misstep by the Mayor . . . with every single report of a carjacking or murder . . . with every misleading headline about the Mayor “refusing” to reimburse the City for flights when the truth is there is no binding legal ruling or clear policy that dictates she is considered a “city employee” who has to pay for first-class flights out of her own pocket, this recall effort will grow. That is what recall organizers are betting on. That is why they are buying billboards. That is why rich Uptown businessmen are decorating their houses with anti-Cantrell signs—to keep this recall and its distorted narrative on everyone’s mind. And that is why The Tribune will continue to assert that this recall effort is not about Black New Orleanians or the quality of life issues it has grappled with for decades . . .
Crime is impacted by a number of external circumstances—pandemics, disasters, socio-economic conditions. It is worsened by inequity and poverty, both of which New Orleans has plenty. And it is on the rise across the country.
And it will rise and fall across time, but it will exist everywhere and it will wreak havoc in communities where disparate and desperate conditions are prevalent. That doesn’t mean our leaders should not have a plan to combat it. But it must be holistic, and it will take time.
This recall is not about crime, but organizers are happy to get everyone else worked up about out-of-control crime and a so-called out-of-touch mayor because they need that frenzy. That’s the narrative they are using to convince at least some of us that this is about us too. Black people still account for more than 54 percent of registered voters in Orleans. If for no other reason than optics, they need some of us to be on board with this effort.
Back to the Process
Of course, and without fail, there are those among us that refuse to see this for what it is—play for money, power and influence. Between the folk that really know what this recall is about . . . and the ones that just think they do, organizers could get those signatures. So let’s just fast forward to the part where they submit the petition with at least 53,343 signatures to the Registrar of Voters on or before Feb. 22, 2023.
Next, the Registrar of Voters has 20 working days after it is presented to certify the petition. That date is March 22, 2023.
The certified petition is then forwarded to Gov. John Bel Edwards, who has 15 days after he receives it to issue an election proclamation, making April 6, 2023, the target date.
There are other requirements, such as publishing the election proclamation in the official journal of Orleans Parish and delivering a copy of the petition and proclamation to the clerk of district court within 24 hours of the proclamation — run-of-the-mill, red-tape measures as recalls go. If this petition is certified . . . if it makes it that far, all these other things will happen just as they are supposed to.
If an election is called and the recall fails, another election cannot be held for 18 months. By then Cantrell would be near the end of her second and final term as mayor of New Orleans. The recall effort might hang over her head, but she would have beat it. As she finishes her term, mayoral hopefuls planning to throw their hats into the ring in 2025 will be preparing to launch their campaigns. Rich and powerful business interests will be determining which candidate they can control more as to decide which one they will throw their support and money behind—basically, business as usual in New Orleans. In other words, all parties involved will be too busy in 2025 to bother with another recall effort against the Mayor.
However, if a recall election is held and passes, she would be removed from office, leaving a vacancy that would be filled by either of the at-large members of the New Orleans City Council until the next mayoral election in 2025.
It is true that turnout for recall elections are usually lower than voter turnout for other primary elections. But if you think that means there is nothing to worry about, you’re wrong. In fact, low turnout is one of the reasons that recall elections are successful in Louisiana at a rate of 2 to 1. Everyone is sitting at home, not paying attention or still convinced it’s a long shot—everyone except the folk that signed the recall petition.
Now, let’s keep it 100. If Cantrell is recalled, at least one of the current at-large City Council members is playing the long game, and will happily step aside to let the other ride out the unexpired mayoral term while he or she builds a war chest for the 2025 campaign to make New Orleans Great Again. Not sure which one is which just yet. Not to worry, though. Those who carried, bolstered and helped create this campaign so deleterious to Black people will enjoy the satisfaction of their success. Those who orchestrated and funded it will position themselves to reap benefits of a power and influence grab like no other.
And the Black community will be losers. To be sure, we won’t be any better off than we are now.