Voting is a privilege that Americans often take for granted. Millions of people in countries around the world are willing to risk their lives for freedom, democracy and fair elections. Yet thousands of New Orleanians are labeled on the rolls as “inactive voters” because they haven’t gone to the polls often enough.
Sure, some inactive voters have moved out of parish or out of state. Individuals who have passed away are purged. Yet there are still plenty of New Orleanians who end up on the inactive list because they are just too lazy to get off the couch on Election Day or cast their ballots in advance. While they might whine about New Orleans politics and the city’s elected leaders, many citizens are not committed to civic engagement, a hallmark of our participatory democracy.
“Inactive voter” is the new buzzword in New Orleans politics. In the recent lawsuit filed by NoLaToya.org leaders against the Louisiana Secretary of State and the Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters, who was later dropped from the case, plaintiff attorneys Laura Cannizzaro Rodrigue and Blake Arcuri vehemently argued that 50,000 voters registered in Orleans Parish were either inactive or deceased and should be reclassified or removed. Recall organizers came to that conclusion after retaining a highly experienced data consultant meticulously scrutinized information provided by the U.S. Postal Service.
In an apparent compromise struck behind closed doors, the lawyers came to an agreement that 25,000 voters would be moved to the inactive list, reducing the number of recall signatures needed. Kudos to Civil District Court Judge Jennifer Medley, who ruled early on that Orleans Parish was the proper venue for the case. That ruling gave an edge to the plaintiffs that helped carry them to victory.
According to Louisiana law, inactive voters still have the right to vote. To do so, they must complete a form presented by the poll commissioner or registrar and verify their address. Their voting status will then revert to active. Considering 50,000 inactive voters were originally identified, the court documents did not indicate how the number 25,000 was selected or exactly who those 25,000 voters might be. What happens to the other 25,000 voters who are also thought to be inactive? Finally, how many active voters does Orleans Parish really have?
Mayor LaToya Cantrell and her supporters are claiming voter suppression and that leaders of the NoLaToya.org recall campaign want to disenfranchise New Orleanians, especially Black voters. What is really happening is that the Secretary of State is merely correcting the rolls to get an accurate count. The recall campaign issued a statement yesterday that said in part: “Not one single voter in Orleans Parish will be removed from the voter rolls pursuant to the consent judgment that was entered today in court.”
The Secretary of State has now lowered by 5,000 the threshold of Orleans Parish registered voters needed to mandate the recall election. New Orleans Registrar Sandra Wilson has almost three more weeks to authenticate the names of voters submitted and determine whether 44,976 of those signatures are accurate. Political consultants believe Mayor Cantrell will mount a court challenge to the new vote total and the process used to move voters to inactive. The case could end up at the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Expect Gov. John Bel Edwards, who is not a close ally of Cantrell, to eventually set an election date for the recall, which will signal the beginning of what might become the city’s most racially charged political campaign.
When Belden Batiste and Eileen Carter announced the recall effort six months ago, few New Orleanians were willing to bet that they would succeed. Since then, Cantrell energized her opponents by making several mistakes. With strong financial backing from entrepreneur Rick Farrell, a team of seasoned professionals came together to create a first-rate campaign that gave angry citizens a concrete way to fight back. The challenge to the voting rolls was a stroke of genius. Now momentum has shifted.
Cantrell’s comments yesterday about disenfranchising Black voters will soon become her anti-recall campaign theme. In 2021, 48,750 New Orleanians voted to put Cantrell back in office. Now at least as many New Orleanians want her out. Only Registrar Wilson — and perhaps the Louisiana Supreme Court — stands in the way. Couch-sitters beware: Cantrell is coming for your vote. Let the battle begin.
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.
We’re not lazy, we are sick of voting every couple of months! People who live in normal places are appalled by our voting day frequency, sometimes for just 1 judge spot or 1 proposition (the things that even on a longer ballot often go unvoted-for). Of course we don’t show up for those things, we were just there for something else that probably mattered more to us. It’s not reasonable, it’s a huge waste of tax dollars, and it’s a system that seems designed to turn off voters.
Rather amusing to claim black voters who have left town or died are “disenfranchised” by correcting the voter records — which are supposed to be corrected without lawsuits, recalls or emergencies. I have not seen it reported, anywhere, how having a grossly inflated and inaccurate voter role, plays into getting state or federal grant money (fraud) or permitting voter fraud. That would be a fraud on all citizens, of all colors. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the recall folks for shining a light on this. And they are just beginning!