Election Plan for New Orleans Approved

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By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 17, 2006

The Justice Department approved plans yesterday for the first New Orleans election since Hurricane Katrina, despite objections from civil rights groups who said the voting arrangements do not adequately accommodate the city's displaced black voters.

The storm has tilted the racial balance of city residents in favor of whites, many believe, and controversy has surrounded the question of what kind of accommodations should be made to allow the tens of thousands of black evacuees to vote from outside the state.

The state plan for the election calls for sending mass mailings to evacuees, easing restrictions on absentee ballots, and setting up satellite polling stations around Louisiana. But it stops short of arranging for balloting in other states such as Texas, Mississippi and Georgia, where many evacuees are dispersed.

Several civil rights groups, including the NAACP, urged the Justice Department to call for out-of-state polling places.

In a letter explaining the department's approval of the election, Assistant Attorney General William E. Moschella conceded: "The State may well have done more under the circumstances."

But he indicated that the extra steps the state has taken have improved the circumstances for voters, and that the improvement is enough, legally, for the plan to gain the department's approval under the Voting Rights Act.

The city's population is still not even half what it was before the storm, according to city estimates.

According to the NAACP, as many as two-thirds of the displaced may be living out-of-state and 75 percent of the displaced voters are African American.

NAACP President Bruce S. Gordon said in a statement that the organization is "deeply disappointed" with the Justice Department's decision.

He noted that satellite voting locations in the United States were made available for Iraqi voters. "Certainly we can do no less for Americans temporarily displaced by Hurricane Katrina," Gordon said.

He said the NAACP will work with other groups that plan to transport New Orleans voters back to the city to vote.

Still, the uncertainties over who will vote has added another layer of complexity to an already convoluted campaign season. Some consultants say the circumstances will favor white candidates and deliver the first white mayor since 1978. Others say displaced black voters will take the extra steps to cast their ballots.

Noting that several white candidates are running, Ronald P. Nabonne, a political consultant, said: "Any candidate who thinks the voting patterns will be determined by who is living in the city will be in for a big surprise."


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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