Election Postponement Gives Democrats Time to Regroup

Is the postponement of the Orleans municipal election a form of political engineering? Secretary of State Al Ater announced Friday that the February 4th New Orleans election is impossible, given the physical destruction in that parish. But this buys more time for the state to track down displaced New Orleans voters, most of whom are democrats.

Al Ater says the New Orleans election for mayor, city council, sheriffs, and other city-parish positions will be held sometime before September 30th. There's a lot of work to be done, like repositioning voting machines and commissioners, and making sure evacuees know when, where and how to cast their vote.

Ater says the postponement is based purely on physical problems. Hurricane Katrina destroyed voting machines and precincts and displaced commissioners... all problems he's asked FEMA to help solve, but so far FEMA hasn't come through with a $1.2 million request.

"I'm not trying to stand up here and blast FEMA, I'm just stating facts. We have gotten nothing," said Ater.

FEMA has also changed its mind about helping the state contact displaced voters. Instead, Attorney General Charles Foti got ahold of FEMA's list of names and addresses, and now the state will send out a letter to evacuees. The draft of the letter lets evacuees know exactly what their voting rights are, but it also directs them to have their mail forwarded through the postal service, which will make their whereabouts known and fair game for political parties and candidates.

Ater admits it will only take a few months to solve election problems in New Orleans, but he's given up to nine months for the Orleans election to be set. This gives more time for evacuees to move home and for the state to track those who don't. Shortly after Katrina, political consultant Roy Fletcher predicted democrats would do this.

"The Ninth Ward elected Kathleen Blanco, the Ninth Ward elected Mary Landrieu, the Ninth Ward has elected a lot of statewide elected officials who are democrats," said Fletcher.

But Ater has distanced himself from the democratic party, announcing on Wednesday that he won't run for Secretary of State. As for republicans, the state party director, Ellen Davis, says the sooner we have elections, the better.

"It will show that we have our act together, and will build confidence across the state and across the country," said Davis.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin is a candidate in the postponed election. He said he hoped the election could be held as scheduled, and that "the most important right we have in America is the right to vote."

Ater hopes to set a date for the New Orleans election by January 1st. The election postponement is a recommendation, which Governor Blanco must approve before it is made final.

Reporter: Marie Centanni