The question we should be asking ourselves is whether recalling Mayor LaToya Cantrell worth an attack on voting rights?
By Anitra D. Brown
The New Orleans Tribune
For the second time in a week, Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin has used the lawsuit filed by organizers of the effort to recall Mayor LaToya Cantrell to promote voter suppression tactics.
In the statement, released today (Friday, Feb. 24) Ardoin wrote:
“As Louisiana’s Secretary of State, I have always championed legislation to provide the tools needed to maintain accurate voter lists in each parish. Louisiana law places the responsibility of verification and maintenance of each parish’s voter registration list on the local Registrar of Voters. These tools include, but are not limited to, more accurate death records from the Louisiana Department of Health (HB 167 by Rep. Mike Johnson, 2021 Regular Session).
Despite the nonpartisan Louisiana Legislative Auditor recommending a second annual canvass, and the overwhelming support of the legislature in 2021 and 2022 (HB 138 and HB 35 by Rep. Les Farnum), Governor Edwards vetoed both of these bills. Although the Legislative Auditor confirmed in its 2022 report that our office follows the necessary procedures related to list maintenance, I believe a second annual canvass is vital to ensuring an accurate voter registration list and maintaining voter confidence. For this reason, I will support this legislation, as authored by Rep. Les Farnum, in the upcoming legislative session, and I call on Governor Edwards to sign it upon its passage.
Recall elections are an essential component of Louisiana’s democratic form of government. I fully and completely support and endorse the right of voters to seek a recall election.”
Ardoin released a similar statement a week earlier, and both are in reference to a lawsuit filed on Feb. 16 by the organizers of the effort to recall Mayor LaToya Cantrell, alleging that the Orleans Parish voter rolls includes tens of thousands of names of people they say should not be on the list. Recall organizers claim that the names are largely those of dead people and non-residents. That remains to be seen.
It should be noted that their data is based on a survey conducted by a firm they hired, according to statements made by organizers in the press; and validity of their assertions have not been confirmed. Still, it appears that the lawsuit has now provided Ardoin, the state’s top election official and a Republican, with a convenient platform to push for more canvassing, and by extension, more purging of voter rolls.
When recall organizers began collecting signatures last September, it was with the understanding that they needed about 53,000 (believed to represent 20 percent of the active voters in New Orleans) in order to be successful. Earlier this week, they announced that they had collected enough signatures — roughly 49,000 — before the Feb. 22 deadline. Whether the recall effort, in fact, has enough valid signatures in order to be certified has yet to be officially determined. And it seems that organizers are indeed relying on the outcome of their lawsuit and a canvass and purge of names from the roll.
Meanwhile, the Registrar of Voters has 20 working days from the date the petition was presented to certify it. That date is March 22, 2023. If certified, the 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 next big date.
Of course, recall election are not uncommon. Since 1966, there have been 106 recall elections called in Louisiana. And of those, 73 resulted in successful recalls of elected officials. However, there is not one recorded instance of recall organizers attacking the integrity of voter rolls in order to get their petitions certified.
To be sure, it is a dangerous path. And Ardoin’s statements make that evident.
The problem with Ardoin’s position and his repeated attempts — the second in a week–to use this lawsuit to promote Republican efforts to add additional and unnecessary canvassing and purging of voter rolls is that these voter purges are an often-flawed process of cleaning up voter rolls. That is probably why Gov. John Bel Edwards has twice vetoed such bills.
In Louisiana, registrars of voters are required by both state and federal laws to keep voter registration records up to date by canceling registrations of people who have died, have moved to another parish or state, or imprisoned or for some other reason have become ineligible to vote in a within a jurisdiction.
To be clear, there is nothing in the 15th Amendment that mandates voters respond to an address query or that citizens to use or lose their right to vote, which has led some voting rights advocates to questions the constitutionality of such purges.
In recent years, however, there have been some states that have taken the canvassing and purging process too far, in the opinion of voting rights advocates, by adding additional canvassing periods and engaging in a practice of purging people from the rolls because did not vote in several consecutive elections or did not responded to a letter asking them to confirm where they live. To be clear, there is nothing in the 15th Amendment that mandates voters respond to an address query or that citizens to use or lose their right to vote, which has led some voting rights advocates to questions the constitutionality of such purges.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice the process can drop eligible voters off the roll en masse and with little notice. In many cases, those voters only discover that they’re no longer listed when they arrive at the polling place, resulting many eligible voters either not voting either don’t vote or are forced to cast provisional ballots.
Brennan Center research has found that over the last decade, jurisdictions have significantly increased the rate at which they purge voter rolls. Between 2014 and 2016, states removed almost 16 million voters from the rolls — a 33 percent increase over the period between 2006 and 2008. Furthermore, the increase was highest in states with a history of voting discrimination.
While organizers are the effort to recall New Orleans Mayor have filed a lawsuit ostensibly to have the threshold of of the number of signatures needed to get their recall petition certified, voting rights advocates are more concerned about the impact that both the recall effort as well as any potential voter roll purge could have on Black voters in New Orleans.
Longtime voting rights advocate and New Orleans resident Carl Galmon says he sees the recall effort as a diversionary tactic designed take take focus off of the real political, economic and voting rights issues impacting the lives of Black residents.
“You don’t see anyone with a background in civil rights or human rights calling for the this recall,” Galmon says. “The purpose of this whole thing is to discourage and prevent Black people from voting. There were polling sites moved out of predominantly Black precincts after Hurricane Katrina, and some of those polling sites have still not returned. Louisiana is one of the most gerrymandered states in the country. Why aren’t Eileen Carter and Noonie Man talking about that. This whole thing is funded by rich white Republicans like Rick Farrell, who is one of Donald Trump’s biggest supporters. This (recall) effort and lawsuit do not serve the African-American community. Just because Amos and Andy are leading the trail does not mean White folk aren’t behind this.”