The importance of voting during a distracting Carnival season
Having municipal elections in February -- rather than in the fall, to coincide with state or national elections -- is a bad idea for many reasons, but it's hard to imagine a place where it's more antithetical to civic participation than New Orleans. Qualifying happens just a few weeks before Christmas, and voting begins just a few weeks after New Year's Day, making it extraordinarily difficult to get people to focus on the campaigns. Throw in other uniquely New Orleans distractions, such as an NFL team that may be in the playoffs, a full NBA schedule and a Carnival season with the potential for parades on Election Day, and you've got a terrible recipe for trying to capture voters' attention. (Did we also mention the two major conventions this year during the last week of January, both of which will keep our service industry workers busy?) No year was worse for civic participation than 2010. The citywide primary fell one day before the New Orleans Saints played in their first Super Bowl, and the final weekend of Mardi Gras followed just one week later. That year, Mitch Landrieu got almost twice as many votes as all of his opponents combined -- but overall turnout was a pitifully low 33 percent. This year's primary is less than a month away -- Feb. 1 -- and falls during the same inopportune time, but it's the last of its kind. Acting on a longstanding recommendation by the League of Women Voters, state lawmakers last year changed the date of future municipal elections back to "normal" autumn dates -- the way it was before 1982. The legislation, sponsored by state Sens. J.P. Morrell and Ed Murray and Reps. Walt Leger III and Jared Brossett, will take effect in 2017. That's just in time for the next citywide elections. The autumn schedule also aligns New Orleans municipal elections with the state's political calendar, which means the state will cover more than half the cost. This final mid-winter election is an important one for many reasons. In some cases, the choices are not clear -- but the impact of voters' choices will be felt for years. For example, voters will elect someone to run Orleans Parish Prison (OPP). The two leading contenders, Sheriff Marlin Gusman and former Sheriff Charles Foti, will spend the rest of this month blaming each other for OPP's notorious troubles, while a third candidate, school board President Ira Thomas, hopes to distinguish himself from Foti and Gusman. In another important race, Coroner Frank Minyard's retirement signals a wide-open contest for the coroner's office, which plays a vital role in the criminal justice system. If there's one overarching certainty in this year's municipal election, it's that the New Orleans City Council will once again have a black majority. At least four of the council's seven seats (one at-large seat plus the seats representing Districts B, D and E) will be held by African-Americans, and a fifth (representing District C) could well be won by a black candidate. The only council member without an opponent is District B's LaToya Cantrell, and the two at-large seats are, for the first time, being run as separate races rather than a single contest with two winners. More than anything, this election will determine who leads New Orleans in the four years leading up to its 2018 tricentennial. Mayor Mitch Landrieu wants to keep his job, and for a while it looked as though he wouldn't draw much opposition. That changed when Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris retired from the bench to enter the race. Bagneris now has less than a month to present his vision for the city and make his case to voters who don't know much about him. That underscores another advantage of moving the election to the fall: It will give challengers a better chance against incumbents because elections won't be interrupted by holidays, Mardi Gras, etc. Voter registration for this year's municipal election closed on Jan. 2. If you live in New Orleans but aren't sure about your council district, check the Louisiana Secretary of State's website at voterportal.sos.la.gov. Above all, pay close attention to the candidates and remember to vote on Feb. 1 -- because right after the primary, there'll be an NBA All-Star Game and two weeks of Mardi Gras to distract us all over again. The runoffs, if needed, will follow on March 15 -- giving us our own version of "March Madness."
Election dates making a move to fall
City events eclipse voter focus BY ANDREW VANACORE
New Orleans bureau,June 08, 2013
Christmas. Mardi Gras. The Super Bowl. And, oh yeah, an election. That's what the New Orleans calendar has looked like oftentimes since the 1980s, but not for long. After years of frustration among civic groups and politicians about a local election schedule that often leaves candidates and ballot issues at least partially drowned out, voting is poised to move back up to the fall. The switch will happen in 2017. Instead of a qualifying period that lands in December, followed by a primary in February and a runoff in March, qualifying will happen in August, followed by voting in October and November. That will turn the clock back to before 1986, when lawmakers slid the dates back in order to shrink a six-month gap between elections in the fall and the inauguration in May. The idea now is to do the opposite and simply move up the inauguration to early January. The League of Women Voters led the push to move elections back to the fall. They surveyed the local political scene and came out with a report in 2011 titled, "Celebrate or Vote: Does the Calendar Affect Voting in Orleans Parish?" The group's answer was yes, so Sen. J. P. Morrell, Sen. Edwin Murray, Rep. Walt Leger and Rep. Jared Brossett put their names on a bill this year that cleared the legislature easily and won Gov. Bobby Jindal's signature this week. The change won't affect voting next year, when Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Sheriff Marlin Gusman, City Council members and other local officials will stand for reelection. Employing some political savvy themselves, League members made sure to put the switch far enough in the future so as not to dent the terms of anyone running for office in the immediate future. Next year's successful candidates will serve from May 2014 until May 2018. But the round of candidates after that will take office in May 2018 and only serve until January 2022, losing about four months from their four-year term. The next piece of the puzzle is actually moving the inauguration from May to January. That will take a vote of the City Council and, potentially, a change to the city's charter, said Jane Jurik, who heads the League's voter service committee. Aside from bringing the elections into a less crowded season, the change may also simplify life for future mayors. Taking office in May means almost half of the budget for that year -- and sometimes more -- has already been spent, leaving a short window for the next administration to make adjustments if needed. When Landrieu took office he was staring at an immense hole in the city's finances and eventually had to cut more than $100 million out of the city's spending plan for the balance of the year. And, of course, moving up the elections will have ancillary benefits: no more campaign commercials while everyone is busy opening presents, cheering the Saints (fingers crossed) and sorting Mardi Gras beads.
THE GAMBIT, April 28, 2013
Two years ago, the League of Women Voters of New Orleans conducted an extensive study of the city's municipal and parochial election dates and their impact on voter turnout. Since 1982, New Orleans has held its citywide elections in February and March -- right in the middle of Carnival season. The run-up to Election Day forces candidates to compete for voters' attention with our city's chock-full social and religious holiday schedule as well as the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans' seasons. The study -- titled "Celebrate or Vote ... Does the calendar affect voting in Orleans Parish?" -- concluded that "the current election cycle causes unnecessary obstacles and inconvenience in staging elections." That's an understatement.
The distractions posed by Carnival, college and professional sporting events and the holidays are not just a problem on Election Day itself. Voter registration drives have to conclude 30 days before each election, which puts an added strain on such efforts during the holiday season. Everywhere else in Louisiana -- indeed, pretty much everywhere else in America -- major elections are held in the fall. It used to be that way in New Orleans, too. The state law governing local election dates was changed after the 1977 mayoral race at the behest of then-Mayor Dutch Morial, who complained of the long (six-month) transition period. The late mayor had a legitimate gripe about his lengthy transition period, but the answer should have been moving the mayor and the City Council's inauguration dates forward, not pushing back the election date.
State lawmakers now have an opportunity to correct that mistake once and for all. Senate Bill 191 by state Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, would put New Orleans' municipal and parochial elections back on the "fall schedule" -- in October and November -- starting in 2015. The change would align our elections with the state's election calendar, restore some sanity to the local electoral process and save the city money. (When local elections are held on state-sponsored election dates, the state picks up more than half the tab.)
The change proposed by Morrell's bill would not affect the upcoming citywide elections, which are only nine months away. Qualifying for municipal and parochial offices in New Orleans is less than eight months away. Nor would Morrell's bill affect the next inauguration date for the current mayor and City Council, if any of them are re-elected next year, or for their immediate successors in 2018. Instead, the bill would move up the inauguration date to the third Monday in January starting in the year 2022. That would put every mayor and council member into office just before the earliest possible date for Mardi Gras, starting in 2022. More important, it would remove a potential abuse that has been the scourge of all incoming mayors in recent times: the temptation for an outgoing administration to overspend in the first four months of its last budget year, leaving the new mayor and council drastically short of cash as they take office.
SB 191 won unanimous approval in the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee last week, but that's just the first step in a long process. The League of Women Voters has vetted this issue thoroughly and deserves credit for pushing it this far. We hope local lawmakers see this needed reform through to the end.
The Gambit April 28, 2013
The 2014 city elections, which for the first time will use a new system to choose two at-large council members, are scheduled Feb. 1. The Super Bowl is Feb. 2, but, fortunately, the game is in New Jersey. Imagine trying to host the game here the same week as the election. Or, more to the point, imagine trying to hold an election the same week the big game is in town.
When the Super Bowl was held in New Orleans this year, many who remembered previous games here were surprised at how much the National Football League's control over the city seemed to have grown. Add to that the increased concern over security after the Boston Marathon bombing and you might see an even-tougher lockdown of host cities for future games.
Next year's runoffs -- if necessary -- will be March 15, which means Mardi Gras, March 4, will interrupt any campaigns. Next year's schedule is a departure from normal practice, which usually places the runoff four weeks after the primary. Keeping the 2014 elections to the normal schedule would have put the runoff on the same Saturday that the Krewe of Endymion rolls its massive parade. The League of Women Voters studied this issue in 2011. It pointed out that the election process is disrupted because the holidays intervene right after Orleans candidates qualify in mid-December. That's followed by the Sugar Bowl and related events, the college football championship (which sometimes is held in New Orleans, and which sometimes features the LSU Tigers), NFL playoffs and the beginning of the Carnival season. Besides being a distraction, these events also affect the ability to train poll commissioners and get voting machines to polls near parade routes, the study said.
Senate Bill 191 lays out a new plan for electing New Orleans officials after next year. The bill would move the elections that under the current schedule would be held in early 2018 to the fall of 2017.
Under the bill proposed by state Sens. J.P. Morrell and Ed Murray and state Reps. Jared Brossett and Walter Leger III, the city's primary will be held on the third Saturday in October, beginning in 2017. The runoff will be four weeks later.
So that the terms of officials elected in 2014 won't be shortened, city officials elected under the new scheme in 2017 will still take office the following May, as is the case now. But those elected in the fall of 2021 will assume their posts in January 2022, and January will be the normal inauguration date every four years.
If SB191 becomes law, it'll help clear out that bottleneck that entangles politics, Mardi Gras and football every four years.
Dennis Persica is a New Orleans-area journalist. In his weekly column he shares his thoughts and observations about people, places and issues in the New Orleans area. Persica's email address is email@example.com THE NEW ORLEANS ADVOCATE 4/26/2013
20th August 2012 ·
The New Orleans Public Library has teamed with the League of Women Voters to encourage voter registration by reserving a computer at each library branch dedicated to online voter registration which connects directly to the Secretary of State http://www.sos.la.gov. Instructions are posted with each computer and will lead the user step by step through the process. It is necessary to bring either a Louisiana ID or Louisiana driver's license to complete the registration.
The following branches will provide this service through October 6. The deadline for registration to vote in the Nov. 6 presidential election is October 9. League members will be in the libraries on the last three Saturdays of September to assist those who need assistance with the registration process.
Residents can register to vote at the following locations: Algiers Regional, 3014 Holiday Drive; Alvar, 913 Alvar; Central City + 2404 Jackson Ave., Bldg. C #235; Childrens Resource Center + 913 Napoleon Avenue; East New Orleans + 5641 Read Blvd.; Hubbell -725 Pelican Avenue (Algiers); Keller + 4300 South Broad Street; Latter + 5120 St. Charles Avenue; Main Library + 219 Loyola Avenue; Martin Luther King + 1611 Caffin Avenue; Mid City -3700 Orleans Avenue; Nix -1401 S. Carrollton Avenue; Noman Mayer -3001 Gentilly Avenue; Smith + 6301 Canal Blvd.
Most branches are open Monday through Thursday from 10 am until 7 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Branch details are available on the library website at http://www.nutrias.org. "The League is most grateful to Library Director Charles Brown for his enthusiastic cooperation in this vital community effort to help everyone enjoy their most basic right of citizenship," stated LWVNO President Lea Young said.
This article was originally published in the August 20, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper
by Greg LaRose, Editor City Business May 21, 2012
Mayor Mitch Landrieu is generally behind a League of Women Voters of New Orleans recommendation to move citywide elections to the fall, but he evidently stops short of the group's desire to have those elections held exclusive of state or federal races. The league wants city elections moved from the spring because of the potential for conflict with Carnival parades, weekend festivals and -- depending on the the success of the Saints football team -- the Super Bowl. It recently conducted a study that outlines the coinciding dates and offers options to spring city elections, which date back to 1986. In addition to low voter turnout, the report notes that springtime elections in New Orleans could risk violating federal election laws in instances where parades or other conflicts force voting precincts to move or hinder access to the timely counting of votes. The group ideally would like city elections on an exclusive date, rather than adding them to a statewide or congressional election where the ballot could grow cumbersome for voters. But it concedes that piggybacking may be the preferred option because it allows the city to share the cost of elections with the state or federal government. "The mayor agrees that holding mayoral elections in the middle of major events like Mardi Gras is not ideal for voter participation," mayoral spokesman Ryan Berni said in an email. "He would be open to supporting holding mayoral and other city elections on a day of a major election in the fall that would bring higher voter participation." Asked for further clarification, Berni confirmed that the mayor would prefer city elections coincide with a state or federal election day rather than be held on a stand-alone day. According to the League of Women Voters, there's a distinct difference among the options. Should the city go to stand-alone elections in the fall and move up inaugurations from May to January, it would reduce the terms of the sitting office holders by four months. Without moving the inauguration day, the federal option could add nine months on to their terms, and the state option could add more than 20 months. While no changes are expected in the near future, the league is backing a bill in the legislature to move a 2014 election date from Feb. 22 to March 15 because of a conflict with the Endymion parade. The same conflict occurs in 2022, by which time the League of Women Voters hopes the jump from spring to fall elections is made.
League of Women Voters ask for Special Session 13th August 2012
By Zoe Sullivan Contributing Writer Louisiana Weekly
The League of Women Voters of Louisiana has issued a call for an extraordinary session of the legislature to address the dramatic cuts to the state's healthcare budget. At the end of July, the Department of Health and Hospitals announced cuts totaling $353 million. The cuts, which followed budget reductions earlier in the year, will have broad consequences. These will include staff layoffs and the closure of Southeast State Hospital in Mandeville, an in-patient psychiatric hospital that also serves as a training facility for medical professionals from the New Orleans region.
Ironically, these cuts come at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, which allows states to take advantage of expanded federal medicaid funds. Under the program, the federal government will cover 100 percent of the expansion's costs until 2016, and will cover at least 90 percent of these costs in subsequent years.
"The League of Women Voters is questioning whether traditional safety-net institutions such as the LSU Healthcare System, Charity Hospital in New Orleans, and the regional mental health institutions are being financially broken in order to outsource their operations," the press release calling for the special session states. "They are asking whether the overturning of state-supported healthcare operations by repeated budget crises is due to political choices of elected officials."
The press release also criticized the state's management of the private contractors that have been managing some state health services in recent years. "The profit margins, transparency, oversight, and cost effectiveness of the two state contractors, Bayou Health and Magellan, for years three through five of the contracts as well as the total cost prior to the contracting are unknown," it stated.
Some, including state Demo-cratic Party leader Karen Carter Peterson, have questioned whether Governor Jindal is using the state's policies as a platform for proving his credentials as a conservative. Peterson emailed a statement to The Louisiana Weekly regarding the League of Women Voters proposal.
"Working families can't sustain this constant punishment to critical services and investments from this administration," she said, affirming that "The legislature is a check on the power of the Governor's office."
New Orleans Health Commis-sioner, Dr. Karen DeSalvo, while declining to comment on the call for the special session, expressed concern about the state's most vulnerable population in urban and rural areas. "This literally could impact whether people live or die," she told The Louisiana Weekly in a phone interview. DeSalvo also highlighted dual concerns around the cuts' longer-term consequences as well as the lack of consultation with those affected by them. "All of this is going to happen really quickly without anyone thinking about the downstream consequences," she said. Relating the situation to New Orleans, she described tensions around the new LSU hospital. "They're up to the 3rd floor. This is of concern to us. Maybe they [state officials] have a plan, but they haven't shared that with us."
The President of the League of Women Voters of Louisiana, Thetis Cusimano, echoed DeSalvo's sentiments in a conversation with The Louisiana Weekly. She said that the legislature should "be creative and not go so fast to take apart so many hospitals and services, not this quickly and without knowing the consequences."
The situation is dramatic enough to be gaining attention in national publications. Healthcare Finance News estimated that Louisiana has 900,000 uninsured residents. Stateline, which is published by the Pew Center on the States, noted in an August 6 article that Louisiana's refusal to participate in the expanded medicaid coverage available as a result of the Affordable Care Act actually deals a double blow to "safety net" hospitals, such as the Louisiana State University system.
"Hospitals that serve large numbers of the uninsured receive federal `disproportionate share' payments (DSH) to cover the extra costs that this imposes on them. DSH subsidies are the single largest source of funding for these hospitals. The federal health law assumed the Medicaid expansion would be mandatory, and called for a reduction in DSH payments. The theory was that fewer people would be uninsured when the law takes effect, and safety net hospitals would no longer need as much help to cover the expenses of uncompensated care."
The Governor's Office and the State Department of Health and Hospitals did not respond to The Louisiana Weekly's requests for comment on the League of Women Voters' proposal.
This article was originally published in the August 13, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper