Agreement: Fewer names needed for New Orleans mayor recall
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The number of signatures needed to force a recall election against New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell would drop by 5,000, under a court agreement awaiting a judge's approval Wednesday.
A spokesman for Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin says the settlement would drop the number of valid signatures needed to 44,975 from 49,975.
Whether recall organizers have that many valid signatures is a mystery. The deadline for turning petitions into the New Orleans voter registrar was Feb. 22. They delivered boxes of petitions to the registrar's office at City Hall with much fanfare — including a brass band — but have declined to say how many signatures were collected. And it remains to be seen if all the signatures collected are valid. The registrar had 20 days from the Feb. 22 deadline to validate the signatures.
To force a recall election requires signatures from 20% of registered, qualified voters. Recall organizers had sued election officials saying voter rolls still list hundreds of dead people and thousands of voters who should be deemed “inactive” because they have likely moved. Such voters, although they are still registered, should not be considered part of the total number of qualified voters in the parish when the number of signatures needed for a recall is calculated
Ardoin spokesman John Tobler stressed that the settlement only sets a new target for the recall effort. Nobody's status as a registered voter is being changed, nobody is being removed from the voter rolls and nobody is losing the right to vote, he said. He said the settlement — for purposes of the recall effort — lowers the total number of voters considered “qualified electors” in the parish from 249,876 to 224,876, a difference of 25,000. As a result, the number of valid signatures needed for a recall election drops by 5,000 — if Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Jennifer Medley approves the settlement and it survives any further litigation.
“Not one single voter in Orleans Parish will be removed from the voter rolls pursuant to the consent judgment that was entered today in court,” Eileen Carter, one of the leaders of the recall effort, said on social media posts.
Cantrell, a Democrat, has repeatedly criticized the recall effort as a Republican-led attack on the administration of a Black, Democratic woman. During a news conference Wednesday morning, she cast the lawsuit as an effort to disenfranchise voters, “particularly Black voters in this community.” She declined to say whether she would intervene in the case.
Carter and Belden Batiste, leaders of the recall effort, are Black Democrats. However, campaign finance reports list a Republican businessman, Rick Farrell.
Nolatoya.org began a petition drive in August seeking to recall Cantrell, New Orleans’ first female mayor. Cantrell’s second term has been plagued by myriad problems, including stubborn violent crime, fitful progress on major street projects that have left some city streets a mess, and unreliable garbage collection. Questions also have been raised about her travel expenses and her personal use of a city-owned apartment.
Organizers have not said how many signatures they collected by last week's Feb. 22 deadline.
Petition organizers said last week that Cantrell hurt her own cause when she was seen on a widely circulated social media video showing her gesturing with her middle finger to a passing Carnival season parade float last month a few days before Mardi Gras. Asked about the incident Wednesday, Cantrell said she did it in response to a float rider's gesture.
“It was a shot, in my opinion, not at me directly but the city of New Orleans,” she said.