The St. George incorporation petition is 2,694 signatures short, the head of the East Baton Rouge Parish Registrar’s Office unveiled Monday after announcing that staff had finished combing through and verifying the names on the more than 1,100 page petition.
Now the clock starts.
St. George organizers have 60 days to collect enough signatures to cover the shortfall or the petition will be declared void.
There were 71,436 registered voters in the proposed city boundaries on the day the petition was submitted to the registrar, which means that the 25 percent threshold required for calling an election would be 17,859 names.
In October, after more than a year of collecting signatures, St. George organizers turned in 18,353 names on the petition. Only 15,165 of those names are considered valid, Registrar Elaine Lamb said Monday.
St. George leaders did not respond to requests for comment. In a Facebook post, the group announced that they have collected a contingency of about 1,500 additional signatures since they turned in the petition, and that they are hoping to collect an extra 1,194 in the next two months.
The group announced a “#GetOne” effort, asking St. George supporters to each identify one person to sign the petition and leaders would bring the petition to them.
Daniel Redmann, an attorney representing the group, said, “The St. George proponents have anticipated this and are prepared to close the gap within the time frame allowed.”
If the group is able to make up the shortfall within the next two months, then the governor can call an election to create a new city. Only the residents who live in the proposed boundaries can vote in the election.
If the group fails to secure the required signatures and the petition is voided, the group will have to wait two years before they can start the process again, Lamb said.
Mary Olive Pierson, an attorney representing the city-parish government on St. George issues, said the movement to incorporate the proposed city is losing steam.
“It’s good news for the city,” she said. “We really need to focus on the more than 75 percent that have voiced their opinions by not signing. And you can’t say they haven’t had an opportunity. They’ve been to shopping centers, they’ve been door to door, they’ve been on the phone, they’ve been forging names. What else can they do to get to the 25 percent?”
In total, the Registrar’s Office tossed out 3,188 signatures, or about 17.4 percent of the total petition.
Lamb said the vast majority of the invalidated signatures were removed because the person did not live in the St. George boundaries or was not a registered voter. She said there were a few instances when people signed their names multiple times and only a handful of isolated incidents where the name was tossed because the signature appeared to be a forgery.
St. George officials said they were investigating the forgeries and planned to pro-actively take legal action.
Each signature was checked to ensure the person lived in the boundaries and that their addresses and birthdays were accurate. Then each signature was compared with the signatures on other public records to ensure it was authentic.
Last week, The Advocate identified six people who said their signatures were forged on the petition. Lamb said she didn’t detect widespread forgeries.
“Overall, I think they did a good job,” Lamb said of the petition effort.
A total of 127 people who signed the petition submitted forms asking that their names be removed.
An anti-St. George group called Better Together has been promoting a campaign asking people to withdraw their signatures.
M.E. Cormier, a Better Together leader, said that people also have 60 days to submit forms to withdraw their signature, if they so choose.
Councilman John Delgado, an outspoken opponent of St. George, said he doesn’t see the group being able to close the gap in the allotted time.
“The organizers of this ill-advised effort have 60 more days to fill that gap, but it’s just not plausible,” Delgado said. “Not only have they fallen short of the minimum requirement, but if they can’t get 25 percent of the voters to sign a petition they certainly can’t get more than 50 percent to vote with them on Election Day.”
St. George organizers submitted the petition for review in October after collecting signatures for more than a year. The Registrar’s Office started validating it in December.
The petition drive is likely the largest one in state history. The East Baton Rouge Parish Registrar’s Office most recently validated the incorporation petition for the city of Central in 2005.
“There’s absolutely no comparison,” Lamb said of the St. George petition.
The city of St. George would encompass about 100,000 people in the southern part of East Baton Rouge Parish. Advocates support the measure for control of local taxes and because it would help them move forward with an independent school system. Opponents are concerned about the financial impact to the parish at large.
People who want to sign the St. George incorporation petition can visit stgeorgelouisiana.com or call (225) 366-7764. People who want to withdraw their name from the petition or see if their name is on the petition can visit withdrawstgeorge.com.
Staff writer Andrea Gallo contributed to this report. Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter, @rebekahallen. For more coverage of city-parish government, follow City Hall Buzz blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/cityhallbuzz.