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Finding real electoral solutions for Louisiana

Katrina dealt New Orleans a terrible blow with immediate consequences for the lives of its citizens. But without a doubt, the people of Louisiana are going to face a long-term trial as well. One of the most egregious will be crippled elections not only for the mayoral elections in February, but for statewide congressional races in 2006.

Because of population displacement, the state is going to face a barrage of problems. First, after so many refugees fled to Baton Rouge, the 6th congressional district will be buckling with an overload of constituent demands. These wildly disparate populations will clearly violate the “one person, one vote” principle. Finally, the overwhelming displacement of African Americans means many will face non-representation through an undoing of districting arrangements.

To deal with this dispersion (and amazing population loss – 120,000 people will remain in Texas alone) we need a creative plan. We can’t just conduct another census and re-draw the boundary lines to ensure fair representation – the process is too cumbersome, too expensive, and because people haven’t finished moving, premature. So what’s the solution?

Posted by RyanODonnell on November 7, 2005 at 08:04 PM | Permalink


Thank you for joining us tonight, Ryan!

Posted by: Charlene | Nov 7, 2005 8:05:47 PM

Sad situation. What is FairVote's plan of attack?

What are local representatives doing to contact their constituents that aren't in the area?

Posted by: Charlene | Nov 7, 2005 8:09:04 PM

What can people outside LA do to help the evacuees get fair representation?

Posted by: Jessica | Nov 7, 2005 8:12:38 PM

Well, I think there's a serious disconnect between representatives and their constituents. Even the locations of most people aren’t known yet. This just underscores the importance of finding a solution that re-engages people with politics –especially in what will be a time of rebuilding.

But one of the sadder mix-ups we’re seeing involves the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is the only organization with a decent list of current refugee addresses. Even though they possess the list, they’re refusing to make it available to the Secretary of State in Louisiana, who would need them to send out absentee ballots.

The first step will be to have FEMA communicate with election officials, and get those absentee ballots out.

Posted by: Ryan O'Donnell | Nov 7, 2005 8:17:08 PM


Does FEMA provide a reason for not supplying addresses? Like privacy issues?

Posted by: Charlene | Nov 7, 2005 8:18:58 PM

I was just going to ask who had a list of evacuees...figures it's FEMA...

Isn't that info covered under the Freedom of Information Act? Can the LA Sec of State, or another organization, bring FEMA to court for the list?

Does any other org have a list of evacuees?...like the Red Cross or one of the orgs that was collecting names of people who survived so relatives could find them?

Posted by: Jessica | Nov 7, 2005 8:21:05 PM

Right --FEMA does cite privacy issues. But I'm citing incompetence.

Privacy issues are a concern, but they can be addressed. These agencies should work together in the same way that companies who sell mailing lists work with clients. When you buy a list from a magazine, for example, the buyer never sees the data. It is sent separately to the post office. The Secretary of State could send absentee ballots to the post office on their own, and FEMA could send the mailing information separately.

It’s a shame that bureaucratic squabbling is going to result in loss of voting rights for as many as 300,000 voters from New Orleans, probably more.

Posted by: Ryan O'Donnell | Nov 7, 2005 8:23:06 PM

I'm not sure there shouldn't be provisional redistricting because Baton Rouge has added enough residents temporarily to gain one and it could very well be an old rep who moved with the constituents.

Posted by: Phil*in* Iowa | Nov 7, 2005 8:23:47 PM

Would a large phone call drive to FEMA work to change their minds and get them to work on a method that both parties would agree with.

Posted by: Charlene | Nov 7, 2005 8:28:16 PM


My son attends LSU and I follow the local news there in Baton Rouge.

My feeling is that an extremely aggressive voter registration drive needs to take place closer to the election when residency is more settled.

There is the reality of a mobile population for years to come.

Posted by: Phil*in* Iowa | Nov 7, 2005 8:28:35 PM

Posted by: Phil*in* Iowa | Nov 7, 2005 8:23:47 PM

I've never been a huge fan of absentee voting...when you're living somewhere other than where your voting. I especially have issues with college students doing this.

However, the people that are planning on returning to NO should be able to vote on who the elected officials will be. It's not like they left by choice...

But I agree that people who are planning to stay in BR or TX, or wherever, should be re-registered at their new residence.

But, how do you find the evacuees to find out where they plan to live?

I thought voter registration issues should have been dealt with right off the bat, at the shelters. But at the time, people felt that was not important...and I suppose they were right, it wasn't as important as food, water, medical attention, etc.

...and that still would not have solved the problem of finding the people who evacuated before Katrina, to relatives homes or whatever.

Posted by: Jessica | Nov 7, 2005 8:30:42 PM

Phil-- I think the problem you're going to face is that many people are still in transit. A lot of folks are busy saving up the means to return home, or at least to their home state. A snapshot mid-decade census wouldn't provide a good picture.

Voters of one persuasion who move into a new district may also have their voting power watered down, or subsumed. African Americans moving into a predominantly white area, for example.

Also, the 2nd congressional district is protected by Voting Rights Act. It was drawn so that Louisiana's delegation would show fair representation for African Americans. The litigation involved in establishing another one would take a long time.

Posted by: Ryan O'Donnell | Nov 7, 2005 8:32:13 PM

Posted by: Charlene | Nov 7, 2005 8:28:16 PM

How long do you think it would take them to answer the phone?

Posted by: Jessica | Nov 7, 2005 8:33:28 PM

I feel that the National Party should come through with resources to do the registration, but the mayoral race is problematic indeed.

I fear Republicans will play real hardball on most of these issues.

Posted by: Phil*in* Iowa | Nov 7, 2005 8:36:38 PM

Charlene -- Getting people on the voter rolls should be a priority, and a vigorous registration drive is a good idea. Another good idea might be to allow same-day registration, so that refugees can walk up to a polling place, wherever they are, and be able to cast a ballot.

As for the districting problem, the best plan for Louisiana, whose population has been so disrupted, would be to conduct a statewide at large election. If that happened, people would create their own "de facto" voting districts, regardless of where they were at the time.

Posted by: Ryan O'Donnell | Nov 7, 2005 8:36:39 PM

Quickly if they thought it was something about their food order. A month if they thought it was a citizen of the U.S. in need.

Posted by: charlene | Nov 7, 2005 8:37:00 PM

Maybe some org should start it's own database to send voting info to. Even if it's not a complete list, it's better than nothing. MoveOn probably has some contact info from their housing project.

Posted by: Jessica | Nov 7, 2005 8:37:57 PM


my take on Baton Rouge is that the 2nd could be drawn there now if the court had that kind of guidance

Posted by: Phil*in* Iowa | Nov 7, 2005 8:39:10 PM

Right, phone calls might be a little difficult in this case. And Jessica brings up a good point about how partisanship can creep into the process. After all, FEMA came under fire as a home for partisan cronies, and it's about the only organization that has solid voter lists. (Although the Red Cross may, as Charlene pointed out.)

Ultimately, we should have a nonpartisan, universal voting registration system in America. For right now, we should seek to open the process as much as possible by breaking down these barriers to voting in Louisiana.

Posted by: Ryan O'Donnell | Nov 7, 2005 8:39:53 PM

How would the state go about establishing a state wide election or same-day registration?

Posted by: CHarlene | Nov 7, 2005 8:41:49 PM

How about voting at ATMs accross the country? DieBold already owns most of them, so the Repug should be all for it.

What about any NO "resident" being able to fill out an absentee ballot at any US Post Office?

Posted by: Jessica | Nov 7, 2005 8:43:20 PM

It would be too much to ask; but LA should adopt Wisconsin's same day registration system for the next election, where you just show some proof of residency(water bill) register and vote.

Of course Republicans are trying to end it in WI but it makes perfect sense for LA, partisanship dooms such attempts.

Posted by: Phil*in* Iowa | Nov 7, 2005 8:44:10 PM

Even if we succeed in using absentee ballots, which is a prospect that's not certain, there are still big practical problems. If a refugee is living in Baton Rouge, that person is not going to be calling their congressman from New Orleans when a street lamp is out. In other words, the caseload of the 6th district is already very strained, and without redrawing lines, the best way to alleviate the strain is through an at large election.

And whether ATMs or postal ballots, we need rigorous, public-interest oversight.

Charlene -- States are moving toward universal registration -- the Help America Vote Act required that all states develop a top-down database by 2006. Right now, everywhere in the country, each county jurisdiction does elections its own way. So this would be a step toward the system.

But the bigger picture will take much more work. For example, there exists no protocol for FEMA to use to transfer its address book for absentee ballot use. An independent group of administrators should have been there to receive it --and they weren't.

Posted by: Ryan O'Donnell | Nov 7, 2005 8:49:34 PM

Thanks again Jessica.

I have to go; but this is IMPORTANT.

Thanks Ryan for your effort.

Posted by: Phil*in* Iowa | Nov 7, 2005 8:49:41 PM

Same day registration like they do it in Wisconsin is right on target.

Posted by: Ryan O'Donnell | Nov 7, 2005 8:50:48 PM

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