Instead of taking questions from potential New Orleans voters, Louisiana Secretary of State Al Ater ended up doing a series of one-on-one interviews with the media. It was supposed to be a town hall style meeting to answer evacuee questions about the upcoming elections but only members of the media showed up. Ater says the zero turn out probably means one of two things.
"One that the unprecedented effort that the Secretary of State's office and the state of Louisiana is making to make certain people know their rights and understand them, this could be a signal that it's working. The other thing could be this was not the most opportune time to do it."
The Secretary was at the Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church on North MacGregor Way. Senior Pastor D. Z. Cofield says
"the secretary's office needs to do a better job coordinating with those who are part of the grass roots efforts who are still in touch with these people to get the word out to let them know that this is something that's important."
The Secretary of State office has sent out more than 730,000 information packets. Ater says evacuees have three ways to vote in the April 22nd election. First, polling places will be open in New Orleans on election day. Second, Louisiana has set up satellite polling locations. The closest to Houston is in the Lake Charles area. Evacuees can vote April 10th through the 13th and then again on the 15th. Third, evacuees have until days before the election to request an absentee ballot which Ater says is secure and secret. The ballot is put in an envelope and the voter puts his or her information on a flap on the outside.
"When the ballot comes in, that mail comes in, we tear that flap off which contains their name. It's put aside so that our records can indicate that person voted in case after this election is over with they want to make certain we received it and their vote counted and all that. We tear that off and put it aside. This envelope is still sealed now, it's put with thousands of other ones to be counted later."
Ater says 10,000 requests have arleady come in to the office.
"They're coming in at between 500 to 1,000 per day. I suspect that number is going to continue to climb everyday so and I might also add the majority of those requests are coming from African American voters."
The deadline to register, for those who were not already register, has passed. Ater still encourages those who have not registered to do so. Voters won't be able to vote for the April 22nd election, but with more than 20 candidates on the ballot, there's almost certainly going to be a run-off election. New voters can vote in that election which will be May 20th. Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.
Registration hotline number: 1-800-883-2805