St. George organizers say they believe they will have enough signatures on Thursday to push their effort to the next crucial phase: an election to decide whether voters want to create a new city.
But backers of the proposed new city aren’t claiming victory just yet.
“It’s going to be close,” said St. George spokesman Lionel Rainey. “We know it’s going to be very close.”
Thursday is the last day for organizers hoping to create a new city to turn in their signatures. If they are short of the required 17,859 names, by even a single signature, the petition will be voided and volunteers will not be able to restart their effort for two years.
Rainey declined to say exactly how many signatures the group would turn in Thursday. But he said it will be in excess of the 2,694 needed to close the gap to get 25 percent of registered voters in the area.
It’s likely a portion of the signatures turned in will end up being discarded as the East Baton Rouge Parish Registrar’s Office verifies the individual signatures. After St. George organizers turned in 18,353 signatures last fall, about 17 percent were eventually tossed. Only 15,165 were considered valid.
Mary Olive Pierson, an attorney for the city-parish in its fight against the incorporation of St. George, said she is hopeful the effort ends Thursday.
“It’s going to save us all a lot of heartache if they don’t come up with signatures,” Pierson said. “It will also save them $40,000 on my contract.”
Pierson said she believes an election will end up being a waste of time and money, because she doesn’t think the measure will win at the polls.
“If they had started collecting these signatures and in five months they had gotten the 25 percent, I wouldn’t be able to speculate on whether they could win,” she said. “But because they’ve taken so many months to get a small minority to even put it on a ballot, that tells me 75 percent of people are likely to vote against it.”
The original collection of signatures were collected during a petition drive conducted over nearly two years. After the Registrar’s Office finished their first pass of the petition and found it came up short, St. George organizers were given 60 days to close the gap.
Rainey said this second phase of the petition gathering has been much more emotionally grueling.
“There’s much more finality this time around,” Rainey said. “This is something that I personally, and many others, have worked on in one way or another every day for the last four years. This stage comes to an end tomorrow.”
Aimee Pourciau, a spokeswoman for the Registrar’s Office, said it was unclear how long the process to validate the second round of signatures would take. She said her office would give a status update on where they are in two weeks.
People who signed the petition and have since changed their minds have an extended deadline to turn in a form to withdraw their name.
Pourciau said they can continue to submit forms seeking to withdraw their names up until the petition is entirely validated, a process that will take weeks.
For months now, an anti-St. George group called Better Together has been encouraging people to remove their signatures from the petition. More than 100 signatures were removed from the petition in the first phase.
Better Together organizers have also been aggressively canvassing neighborhoods in recent months trying to subtract names from the petition.
M.E. Cormier, a Better Together leader, said the group will turn in the forms they have collected to date on Thursday, and continue pressing for more in the coming weeks.
If St. George organizers are successful in collecting enough signatures, the governor will ultimately call an election for voters in the boundaries to decide the fate of the proposed city.
The proposed boundaries of city stretch across the southern part of the parish, encompassing about 80 square miles and 107,000 residents.
Opponents of the city are hopeful the issue will not have to make it to a vote, but officials with the city-parish government have stated their intentions to mount a legal fight in an effort to block the city because of concerns about the damage it would do to the parish.
Opponents say the City of St. George would drain money from the parish budget to the detriment of the rest of the parish residents.
Editor’s note: This article was changed on Wednesday, May 27, to reflect that withdrawal forms can be submitted until the petition is validated by the Registrar of Voters Office.