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Efforts under way to protect Orleanians’ right to vote

30th April 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Zoe Sullivan
Contributing Writer

Restricting access to voting has become a widespread campaign in recent years under the banner of preventing voter fraud. As many New Orleanians who lost all their personal documents during Hur­ricane Katrina know, a U.S. citizen may have the right to vote and yet not have the appropriate identification to demonstrate this. Voting rights advocate Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center for Justice told a recent conference call audience that new laws directed at restricting voting would disproportionately affect “minorities, the poor, the elderly, students and people with disabilities.”

Orleans Parish purged 45,830 registered voters from its rolls in 2010. These voters were on the Parish’s “inactive voter” list because they had not participated in the 2 federal elections over a two-year period. Asked how many people have been stricken from the rolls for reasons such as felony convictions or relocation to another the Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters nor the Secretary of State, which handles elections, could identify how many people had been removed from the rolls for these reasons. Both offices said that no records are kept that would allow this kind of data to be tracked.

Weiser said that a 2006 Bren-nan Center study found that “Eleven percent of eligible voters do not have the kinds of state-issued, photo I.D.s required by these new, harsh laws.” She reported that this figure jumps to 25 percent for African Americans.” In another example of minority disenfranchisement, Wei­ser offered data collected by the state of Texas for the Department of Justice, that showed “Latino citizens are between 46 and 120 percent more likely than whites to lack these I.D.s.” Weiser further noted the significant impact that voter I.D. laws can have since the states “that have passed these laws make up 70 percent of the votes needed to win the Presidency.”

In New Orleans, the Hip-Hop Caucus is taking proactive steps to counteract both the challenges of registering people to vote as all as political apathy. Sess 4–5, a local artist and business owner, has been active with the caucus’s efforts.

“I just think it’s important for as many non-registered voters in the African-American community to register and participate in the voting process,” Sess told The Louisiana Weekly. “It’s not as sexy as it was in 2008 when Obama was first running, so we want to make sure that we activate as many people as possible who weren’t of age to vote last time.” The first registration drive that the Caucus will hold will be on May 12 at The Chalk Line, a nightclub on the West Bank.

Asked about the voting situation in Orleans Parish, Marjorie Esman of the American Civil Liberties Union told The Louisiana Weekly that while there are issues with people being removed form the voting rolls if they fail to vote for two consecutive years, but her larger concern is another. “The fact that convicted people can’t vote obviously removes the franchise from a huge proportion of the residents of Orleans Parish, most of whom are African-American men.” Esman went on to say: “there’s really no rational reason why people who are in prison shouldn’t be able to vote.” She also noted that studies have found that people who have the right to vote are less likely to be recidivous in criminal behavior, suggesting that at a minimum, allowing parolees the right to vote would be a step in the right direction.

Esman noted that provisional ballots are available for federal elections for those whose names are not listed on the precinct’s rolls, but an examination of the provisional ballot records on the Secretary of State’s web site revealed that, for example, of 138 provisional ballots cast in the March 24 election, 111 were rejected.

Asked about this, Betsy Stoner, of the Board of Elections Supervisors, explained to The Louisiana Weekly that this particular election was a Democratic party primary, and it was the first primary in which Democrats did not allow independents and those without a party affiliation to participate, a factor, which may have resulted in some casting ineligible ballots. Of the 2,499 provisional ballots cast in Orleans Parish during the 2008 presidential election, 1,040 were also rejected. Stoner said that there were many reasons a ballot might be rejected. For example, it may not have been signed, or the person may have cast the ballot at a polling station that was not in the congressional district for which the ballot was intended. “The signature may not be a match,” Stoner told The Louisiana Weekly, with the one on record the registrar of voters. Another reason Stoner listed why a provisional ballot may be rejected is that the ballot itself is missing. “You’d be surprised how many people think the ballot is a receipt, and they’ll walk out with the ballot in their pockets.”

This article was originally published in the April 30, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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