Now that NoLaToya.org submitted 10 boxes of mayoral recall petitions to Registrar of Voters Sandra Wilson, the pressure on Wilson is mounting. She is responsible for the review and authentication of approximately 50,000 signatures, delivered Wednesday (Feb. 22), within 20 working days. Even if Wilson and her staff labor seven days a week, they would have to review of almost 1,800 signatures each and every day to reach their goal. As the result of a lawsuit filed by NoLaToya.org, Wilson will also have to defend the accuracy of the voting rolls she oversees in Civil District Court on Monday (Feb. 27).
Wilson began her career as a public school teacher and later served as the principal at Langston Hughes Elementary School. She then forged a relationship with then City Council member Suzanne Haik Terrell, who became state commissioner of elections. Terrell had made a campaign promise to abolish the office in four years and transfer duties to the Secretary of State. Wilson worked for Terrell during that time.
After Hurricane Katrina, long-time Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters Louis Keller made the decision to retire. With the help of some well-placed friends at City Hall, Wilson became the leading candidate for the registrar’s job. Appointed by and serving at the pleasure of the City Council, she also answers to Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin.
The lawsuit filed by NoLaToya.org asserts that the list of active voters provided by Wilson and Ardoin includes more than 30,000 people who are no longer qualified to vote in Orleans Parish. The number of petitions needed to force a recall election is tied to the list of active registered voters.
A demographer working for the recall campaign compared the U.S. Postal Service change-of-address records against the Secretary of State voter rolls. Results indicated that more than 30,000 people may no longer be eligible to vote in Orleans Parish because they died, moved out of state or are not active voters. Some people are registered at vacant lots or at buildings that are uninhabitable. If the court agrees with the plaintiffs, the number of signatures that would need to be certified could decrease by 6,000 or more.
State law mandates that the registrar of voters in each parish purge the voter rolls annually by June 30. Registrar Keller would mail a postcard that voters needed to sign and return indicating they were still residing at the address listed on the rolls. When I moved from Treme to Esplanade Avenue in the mid-1980s and did not immediately change my registration, Keller purged me from the rolls. I had to re-register before the next election came around.
When I purchased a building more than 25 years ago, political mail began arriving for a man I did not know, Ronald L’abbe. I wrote the Secretary of State that I have never seen or spoken to Mr. L’abbe and — through a search of the state’s voter rolls — was unable to find anyone by that exact name residing in Louisiana. Nothing ever happened. Mr. L’abbe remains on the voter rolls. I even received a copy of Mayor Cantrell’s “annual report” addressed to him. How many phantom voters like Ronald L’abbe are wrongfully inflating the registration rolls in Orleans Parish?
Wilson, the registrar, certainly has her hands full. Recall elections do not occur frequently. I doubt that she or anyone
on her staff has been involved in an effort to compare current signatures with those submitted perhaps years ago. If someone registered to vote at age 21, would he or she have signed their original voter card exactly the same way as today at age 45, 55 or 65? The burden to get it right could become intense.
The need to purge the rolls — if the judge deems it necessary — may also be time-consuming and complicated. Wilson’s office issued a statement that it has planned “with great effort” the procedures for the receipt and certification of the recall campaign signatures. “This recall process shall be completed accurately, timely and in keeping with election laws,” Wilson said.
Secretary Ardoin will be following the process closely. He’s up for re-election this fall and would not want to damage his reputation statewide because of a messy voter purge or signature authentication process in Orleans Parish. He may even check with registrars in other parishes to determine whether more voter purges are in order.
Even though the bulk of the recall petitions has been submitted, it’s not too late to participate in what is being labeled even by naysayers as a historic event. Voters still have five days to request that Wilson’s office add or remove their names. The request must be made in person. Recall campaign Co-Chair Eileen Carter made a direct appeal yesterday to citizens who have yet to submit their signatures. “Come join us. New Orleans needs a little love,” she said.
Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as former District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, former City Councilman Jared Brossett, City Councilwoman at-large Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, former Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former City Councilwomen Stacy Head and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. She is a member of the Democratic Parish Executive Committee. Columbus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.