Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) agreed Friday to postpone New Orleans's Feb. 4 elections for mayor and City Council for up to eight months because of the damage from Hurricane Katrina.
Blanco's decision came hours after Louisiana's top elections official recommended the delay, saying polling places have not been rebuilt and thousands of voters remain scattered across the country.
Secretary of State Al Ater said he needs to ensure that poll workers are in place and polling places and absentee voting systems ready for an election he called "the most important in that city's life."
"The new administration, the new council, the new people that will be elected will be in charge of making decisions affecting billions and billions and billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives," Ater said.
He said the election should be held no later than Sept. 30.
The highest-profile race is for mayor. Incumbent C. Ray Nagin, who has been both criticized and praised for his handling of the Katrina disaster, has not announced whether he will seek reelection but is expected to do so.
Nagin released a statement Friday saying he had hoped for February elections because "voting during our regular cycle would further bring a sense of normalcy and empowerment to our citizens" but adding: "I respect the secretary of state's decision as I am sure it is based upon his concern for holding a fair election."
Officials expect a huge increase in the number of absentee voters because so many of the city's 273,000 registered voters have moved elsewhere.
Ater laid much of the blame for the delay on the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which he said has not provided any of the $2 million his office requested to repair voting machines damaged in the Aug. 29 storm and to upgrade New Orleans's absentee voting system.
Ater also said FEMA took until this week to respond to his October request for addresses of Louisiana residents displaced by the hurricane, so they can be informed of how to vote from out of state.
"Our job would have been a lot easier if FEMA had been more forthright and more forthcoming," Ater said.
A FEMA spokeswoman did not return a call for comment.
Ater said holding the city elections Sept. 30 would save $3 million because the state will vote that day on two constitutional amendments.