Making Democracy Work

Major New Orleans Election Schedule Reform

League of Women Voters of New Orleans Initiated Legislation to Change Local Elections from Early Spring to a Fall Schedule. Change to take Effect Fall of 2017.

"Celebrate or Vote": Does the Calendar Affect Voting in Orleans Parish

The Orleans Parish local elections in 2010 were overwhelmed by the Saints' playoff games and their ultimate Superbowl XLIV win on February 7th. Carnival season which began on January 6th ended February 16th. Prior to those events, there were the Christmas holidays, New Year's celebrations and the college bowl games held in the Superdome.

The local election schedule was woven into those events. Qualifying to run for office took place December 9-11, 2009. The last day for prospective voters to register to vote in the primary ended January 6th. The primary election took place on February 6th. The last day for new voters to register for the general election was February 3rd with the election being held on March 6th.

Prior to 1982 the Orleans Municipal and Parish elections were held in the fall, which is a regularly designated voting period for Louisiana. The move to late winter/early spring was effective for the 1986 elections. From that point on, Orleans was the only jurisdiction in the state holding an election during the early spring. Consequently, the total cost of holding the elections was borne solely by the local taxpayers.

The League of Women Voters of New Orleans began a study of the local election schedule starting in the fall of 2010. A committee of ten leaguers did the research and wrote the material. The study "Celebrate or Vote" was released in 2011. In the course of the study the League examined the impact of the schedule on the ability of the candidates to raise funds and to reach the voters with their campaigns. In addition to the voter distraction, the local election supervisor reported that there was lop-sided attendance for commissioner training due to events. Even the delivery and pick-up of voting machines had to take the parades into account.

Seemingly unrelated activities have affected the ability of candidates to get out their message. For instance, one of the primary television stations in the city airs the Winter Olympics for two weeks limiting prime viewing for televised debates. For the 2014 elections, a week of extremely harsh winter weather just prior to the primary limited the usual door-to-door campaigning.

Ancillary to the scheduling of the local elections was the fact that the inauguration date for the new office holders takes place in early May. This meant that the new municipal administration and city council took office halfway through the fiscal year. Funds were already dedicated and contracts signed by the out-going administration.

It was immediately revealed that the date for the general election for the 20 14 election cycle would fall squarely on the week-end before Mardi Gras Day. The polling precincts would be impossible to set up and the voters would be completely blocked from the polls. The League asked four of the local legislators, Sen. J.P. Morrell, Rep. Walter Leger, Sen. Ed Murray and Rep. Jared Brossett to sponsor legislation to move the election from March 1st to March 15, 2014. Senate Bill 135 passed both houses unanimously during the 2012 regular session.

Then the serious work of comparing alternative election schedules was undertaken. The possibilities were the following: 1) a later spring election, 2) a later fall schedule combining with the federal congressional elections, 3) skipping nearly two years and combining with the gubernatorial elections, or 4) a move back 3 months to a stand-alone election. One of the primary considerations was the length of the terms of the officials elected for the transition. Should the terms be shortened or lengthened and for how long? Would there be voter drop off for local officials if they were at the end of a long and complex ballot? We weighed cost sharing with the state and federal elections, the screen size of the voting machines, Saturday vs. Tuesday voting, and matching the differences in qualifying dates and general election dates with state and federal schedules. The time between an election and inauguration had to be considered.

The Secretary of State's office gave us extensive help. The Tulane Public Policy Center was consulted. We revisited various elected and appointed officials. The Registrar of Voters office and the Orleans elections supervisor gave us insight on how various changes would affect their office staffing and work load. Other political experts helped us walk through the available scenarios.

We finally came to the conclusion that falling back to a fall schedule resulting in stand- alone elections for the local offices would best benefit the voters and the candidates. This plan would have qualifying in August, the primary in October and the general election in November. It avoided all major holidays and preserved Saturday voting which is preferred by local voters. There could be some cost sharing with the state if constitutional amendments could be put on the ballot. Generally fall is considered to be the traditional election period. The transitional terms would be shortened by 3 months.

Sen. J.P. Morrell, Rep. Walt Leger, Rep. Jared Brossett and Sen. Ed Murray again agreed to carry a bill to make the permanent change. SB 191 passed both houses unanimously during the 2013 regular session. SB 191 became Act 95 and is now incorporated in the Louisiana Revised Statutes as La. Rev. State., Sec.18:402(D). 2014 is last time New Orleans Municipal and Orleans Parish elections will be held in the early spring. The new election cycle will begin in the fall of 2017.

To effectively complete total election reform, it is necessary to have a local referendum changing the City Charter to move the inauguration date to match the new election schedule. Leaving the inauguration in early May created a very long time between the election and newly elected officials taking office. In addition, it left the city with the problem of a new administration taking office in the middle of the budget year. This brought up another fact to consider. If the inauguration is moved to January 2018 to match the fall 2017 elections, then the out-going administration would miss participating in the city's tricentennial celebration.

In order to accommodate the out-going administration, a city charter proposition was drafted that would move the inaugurations to the second Monday in January beginning in 2022. On January 9, 2014 the current city council passed the ordinance calling for the proposition to be on the November 4, 2014 ballot.

The propositions passed to change in inauguration dates for the city council and the mayor to the second Monday in January beginning in 2022. The city council and mayor will be inaugurated on the 1st Monday in May 2018 following the fall 2017 elections.

LA Revised Statute 18:402D

Senate Bill 191 from the 2013 Regular Session was Act 95 upon passage and the signature of the Governor. It has been incorporated into the Louisiana Revised Statutes governing elections and becomes effective in 2015. Thus changing Orleans Parish elections beginning in the fall of 2017.

LA RS18:402D

NOTE: Subsection D eff. until Jan. 1, 2015. See Acts 2013, No. 95, 1.

D. Parochial and municipal elections in a parish containing a municipality with a population of three hundred thousand or more. Elections for parochial and municipal officers in a parish containing a municipality with a population of three hundred thousand or more shall be held every four years, beginning in 2006, as follows:

(1) Primary elections for parochial and municipal officers shall be held on the first Saturday in February of an election year.

(2) General elections for parochial and municipal officers shall be held on the fourth Saturday after the first Saturday in February of an election year.

NOTE: Subsection D as amended by Acts 2013, No. 95, 1, eff. Jan. 1, 2015.

D. Parochial and municipal elections in a parish containing a municipality with a population of three hundred thousand or more. Elections for parochial and municipal officers in a parish containing a municipality with a population of three hundred thousand or more shall be held every four years, beginning in 2017, as follows:

(1) Primary elections for parochial and municipal officers shall be held on the third Saturday in October of an election year.

(2) General elections for parochial and municipal officers shall be held on the fourth Saturday after the third Saturday in October of an election year.

NOTE: Subparagraph (e) eff. until Jan. 1, 2015. See Acts 2013, No. 95, 1.

(e) The first Saturday in February of an election year for parish and municipal officers in a parish containing a municipality with a population of three hundred thousand or more.

NOTE: Subparagraph (e) as amended by Acts 2013, No. 95, 1, eff. Jan. 1, 2015.

(e) The third Saturday in October of an election year for parish and municipal officers in a parish containing a municipality with a population of three hundred thousand or more.

League Study -- "Celebrate or Vote"

Click Here to view the final report of the year-long study by the League of Women Voters of New Orleans on this important issue.