A petition drive that has dragged on for two years to allow voters to decide whether to create the new city of St. George has less than a week left to go.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Registrar of Voters Office will no longer accept additional signatures after May 28. And if the petition is still short of the required 17,859 signatures, representing 25 percent of registered voters in the St. George boundaries, the entire petition will be voided, along with the past two years of work that volunteers have put toward creating a new city with its own government.
Critically, any renewed efforts to incorporate the proposed city of St. George would have to wait two years, by law.
“We’ve got one week left to make history, and it’s all hands on deck,” said St. George spokesman Lionel Rainey. “We’re doing everything we can to close the gap and achieve an adequate amount of additional signatures.”
Rainey said supporters are “putting the petition in front of as many people as possible, and we’re encouraging anyone who has removed their name, due to misinformation, to re-sign the petition.”
St. George organizers turned in 18,353 names on a petition in the fall, cementing their movement as one of the largest of its kind in state history. The Registrar’s Office finished validating the signatures at the end of March, checking the accuracy of every registered voter listed on the more-than-1,100-page petition.
The office tossed out 3,188 of the signatures, mostly because those voters were not in the boundaries of St. George.
For the past seven weeks, St. George organizers have been hitting the pavement, working feverishly to try to close the gap. They will need to turn in 2,694 valid signatures. The group is expected to turn in more than that because it’s likely a portion of the newest batch also will end up being disqualified via the registrar’s verification process.
Rainey said the group has collected “right around the number needed,” but is still trying to get more to cover all the bases.
“We’re confident we’ll get the cushion we need, but it’s going to be close,” he said.
At the same time, an anti-St. George group called Better Together has been shaking trees, looking for people who signed the petition but now want to remove their names. They’ve already turned in more than 100 forms from people who removed their names from the petition.
“We are helping people cast their ‘No’ vote now by withdrawing their names from the petition,” said M.E. Cormier, a Better Together leader. “Over 100 people have withdrawn their names and more are coming in every day.”
Better Together also is expected to turn in on the May 28 deadline the remainder of the forms it has collected from people asking to withdraw their signatures.
Cormier said the group is actively seeking out people who might want to withdraw their names from the petitions. They sent out mailers and are canvassing neighborhoods.
Once the additional signatures and withdrawal forms are submitted next week, the Registrar’s Office will likely take a few days or weeks to validate the signatures and come up with a final tally.
If St. George gets enough signatures, the governor is expected to set an election and allow voters in the proposed boundaries to decide if it will become East Baton Rouge Parish’s newest city.
Plans for the city include about 107,000 residents and 80 square miles of land. City organizers have created a budget with annual expenditures of about $54 million.
City-parish officials say they expect to file lawsuits to stop the incorporation in the event St. George moves forward to a vote.
Their main objection is that if St. George was formed, its own city budget would come from sales taxes that otherwise went to the East Baton Rouge city-parish coffers.