NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 23, 2005

New Orleans is suffering a new disaster: democracy. Gov. Kathleen Blanco has postponed city elections indefinitely, thereby extending the term of the city's mayor by executive decree, and flawed voting mechanics threaten to bar tens of thousands of people from future elections, say Rob Richie and Ryan O'Donnell (Washington Post).

This decision is grounded in genuine problems with the city's ability to run elections, say Richie and O'Donnell:

  • The main problem is establishing who can vote and making it easy for them to participate.
  • New Orleans needs to get absentee ballots to its many displaced registered voters, but only the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a relatively comprehensive list of new addresses.
  • Under threat of a lawsuit, FEMA agreed to pass the list onto Louisiana, but the state must now re-design its ballots to accommodate runoff elections.

Moreover, this is part of a larger national problem since thousands of counties handle voter registration themselves, say Richie and O'Donnell. The result is incomplete and error-ridden records, with nearly a third of eligible voters left off the rolls and many more registered twice or with old addresses.

What we need is universal registration, say Richie and O'Donnell:

  • Voters should be registered no matter where they live, and the process should be automatic, administered by nonpartisan, truly independent officials.
  • All eligible citizens should be entered into a nationwide voter database with complete and accurate records and safeguards to respect privacy concerns.

Furthermore, as New Orleans rebuilds, involving all the people in the decisions of their government is of greatest importance; and nationally, we must act to ensure that democracy is never a victim of terrorism and natural disasters, say Richie and O'Donnell.

Source: Rob Richie and Ryan O'Donnell, "Louisiana's Electoral Disaster," Washington Post, December 22, 2005.

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