Aggressive Purges are the Wrong Tactic in New Orleans

Politics Voting

New Orleans      If I had good sense, I’d keep my mouth shut, but that’s almost impossible, as I follow closely the perverse effort in our headquarters city of New Orleans by some people to force voters off the election rolls in order to advance an unrelated issue.

A bunch of people have been promoting a recall petition against LaToya Cantrell, at about the midway point of her second term as New Orleans mayor.  I’ll admit that the mayor has gone out of her way to heat up this mess with one antic after another from overbilling foreign travel, so it all seemed like little more than a junket, to the way she was spending her campaign money, to throwing the bird recently at a Mardi Gras float from the reviewing stand.  Some parades had a field day in producing satirical floats.  Her behavior has sometimes made national news, and that likely embarrasses some of the city’s elite.  Then there’s increasing crime and slow street repair, so when you put it all together, she’s boiled the pot full of hot water and then seems to have jumped in head first.  In all honesty, it’s hard not to say that she’s asked for this trouble.

The recall folks have been elaborately funded by a local Republican with deep pockets, allowing them to try some novel approaches to getting the necessary signatures.  They finally have turned in their petitions, though have been unwilling to state the number and reneged on a legal settlement and judicial order with the local paper to give the news a copy of all the petitions within hours of submission.   It’s hard not to believe that despite the recall organizers’ claims to have met the number that they likely made it by the skin of their teeth, which in our long experience in circulating petitions, means that they probably failed to secure a significant margin.  Whatever?  I don’t have a horse in the race.

Or at least I didn’t until they employed their latest tactic by going to court and demanding that more than 30,000 New Orleans voters be purged from the rolls as inactive, so that they would need 6000 fewer, signatures to qualify.  Weaponizing voter purges is plain and simple voter suppression.  I may not feel strongly about recall, but in the last four years of helping manage the Voter Purge Project, which is now regularly processing pure voter lists from almost forty-eight states around the country, we adamantly oppose politically motivated purges.  From our review of the purge rage in Orleans Parish, as well as reading and following the registrar of voters’ defense of her system, she seems in the range of what we would normally see as measured and acceptable performance.

You get on the inactive list mainly by not voting and not voting often, as established by Supreme Court decisions on removal.  Of course, dying requires either removal, once it is verified or the office is informed.  Moving requires reregistration, but let’s be honest, sometimes, people still vote at their old precinct, so claims about a return piece of mail don’t trump real live voting.  Let’s also be clear that being put on the inactive list is suppression.  You show up and have to go through the rigmarole of a sealed ballot that may or may not be counted.  Chronic voters know that they can refuse to show an ID and vote under seal or vote in the wrong precinct and vote under seal, but infrequent voters are likely to not vote if they think they will be disqualified and fall off the rolls if it all becomes a hassle.  Furthermore, people are never really sure sealed voters are ever clarified and counted.

If the recallers make their numbers fair and square, then so be it, and they can fight it out with the mayor to see who wins.  But, it’s just wrong and bad politics to try to force aggressive and unwarranted purges based on some returned bad addresses and even someone’s death that is still being processed on the list.  We need voting to be open and accessible, not filled with boulders on the road.  Preventing voters from being able to cast ballots using this tactic is much worse for the future of the democratic process in New Orleans than two more years of a mayor, even one who comes with mischief as part of her baggage.