March 27, 2006

Judge rejects New Orleans election delay

By Russell McCulley

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Monday rejected
pleas to delay the April 22 municipal election in New Orleans,
despite objections that Hurricane Katrina evacuees may not get
to vote.

Civil rights group National Association for the Advancement
of Colored People and others sought a postponement on the
grounds that evacuees, many of them black, will be
disenfranchised unless voting stations are set up in cities
where many have lived since Katrina flooded New Orleans on
August 29.

"The simple request was this: the people who are displaced,
let them vote from wherever they are located. Don't force them
to come all the way back to New Orleans or to some other city
in Louisiana to vote," NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorney Damon
Hewitt said.

But U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle, who set the April 22
election date after the vote was postponed twice because of
storm damage, said he found no compelling reason to make a

"The election goes forward as scheduled," Lemelle said at a

Voters will cast ballots for city council members and a
mayor in their first election since Katrina. Mayor Ray Nagin,
who is black, is running for re-election, but has 23

Black political leaders complain the election is being
pushed by groups who want to seize power from the largely black
electorate of New Orleans.

Before Katrina, 70 percent of the city's nearly half a
million residents were black and their vote controlled local
politics for years.

The storm hit the city's black neighborhoods hard and
scattered their residents across the country. An estimated
150,000 evacuees now live in Houston, 350 miles west of New

To vote, the evacuees will have to travel to Louisiana or
cast ballots by mail.

Louisiana Secretary of State Al Ater told reporters after
the hearing that legal problems would not allow the state to
place ballot boxes out of state.

"We're all doing the very best we can do to deal with
something that's never been done in the history of America," he