Members of an anti-St.George volunteer group who have been combing over a copy of the incorporation petition say their analysis of the document found that St. George organizers will end up 2,000 signatures short of what’s required to bring the new city proposal to a vote.
The Better Together/Residents Against the Breakaway group obtained the incorporation petition in a public record request. They counted 18,354 names on the petition as it was submitted in October, but concluded that almost 18 percent of the signatures aren’t valid.
Their analysis compared the people who signed the petition against a registered voter list for the part of south Baton Rouge parish that would become the new city of St. George. The group found a total of 3,235 entries that they considered invalid because the signatories were not on the registered voter list for the area or because their names were duplicated on the petition.
The analysis found that the rate of invalid signatures increased as time went on, suggesting that St. George organizers were having more trouble finding support for the petition effort after the first year of campaigning.
The Better Together group also requested the registered voter list for the area along with the petition. The list included 69,865 voters, which would mean St. George organizers need 17,467 valid signatures to hit the 25 percent threshold.
While Better Together members were confident in the analysis, the exact number of people needed to sign the petition isn’t clear at this point. The Registrar of Voters Office has repeatedly declined to publicly disclose the exact number of required signatures but estimates have ranged between 16,000 and 18,000. Neither the registrar nor St. George organizers have provided a complete tally of how many signatures were submitted on the petition, but St. George leaders said it was probably about 18,000 signatures.
Registrar Elaine Lamb said Monday that her office is 90 percent finished and has tossed about 15 percent of the names. She said the validation process will be finished either later this week or early next week.
St. George organizers need 25 percent of the registered voters in the boundaries of their proposed area to put the proposal to create a new city on the ballot.
Lionel Rainey, a St. George spokesman, said Monday that organizers have gathered a contingency of about 1,250 signatures — and are working on more — to account for a potential shortfall.
“We are still gathering signatures every day and remain on track to gather the needed petition signatures within our 60-day window. With that said, we are still pushing for an amount of signatures that would provide a healthy margin of error,” Rainey said in a statement.
Rainey said he disagrees with the idea that support is waning for the new city.
“That’s simply not true,” he said. “Support for better schools and local control of tax dollars grows every day. Support for St. George has never been stronger.”
M.E. Cormier, a Better Together volunteer who led the count, said she feels “100 percent confident” in her group’s analysis. Every name was vetted four times by a group of about a dozen volunteers, she said.
Lamb on Monday still declined to disclose the exact number of needed signatures. She said the issue is complicated because there are several split precincts around the boundary lines of St. George that would need to be carefully divided and counted.
The public record request submitted by Better Together to the Registrar’s Office suggests that the group is likely dealing with the master list of eligible voters in St. George.
The list of registered voters was provided by the Registrar’s Office in response to a request seeking “a list of voters eligible to sign the petition.” The Registrar’s Office then submitted a request to the Secretary of State’s office to obtain a breakdown of every precinct it believes to be listed in the boundaries. For 12 precincts, the Registrar’s Office asked the Secretary of State to remove the voters who are within the city of Baton Rouge.
Lamb wouldn’t say whether the list that Better Together received was an accurate representation of the St. George voters. She referred questions about the voter registration list to the Secretary of State’s Office, who in turn referred questions back to the Registrar’s Office.
The list does not account for people living in areas that were annexed into the city of Baton Rouge after the petition process started.
Despite the Registrar’s Office’s refusal to disclose a specific number of required signatures, Cormier said she believes the number they have is accurate.
“In my opinion, they would not be able to begin vetting the petition if they did not have the master list,” she said. “There’s no way to vet the petition without a list of all of the eligible voters.”
The group said any name that appeared on the petition, but not on the registered voter list, was deemed “invalid” by their analysis. They counted 2,919 entries that were not on the registered voter list.
They also counted 316 entries that they considered invalid because “they are duplicate, triplicate, or (in one case) quadruplicate signature.”
The group found that on the first 400 pages of the petition, with people signing from September to November 2013, only 7 percent of signatures were invalid. For pages 401 to 800, 21 percent of the signatures were invalid, and for the last 378 pages, 32.5 percent were invalid.
Rainey said if more people want to sign the petition, they can visit StGeorgeLouisiana.com or call (225) 366-7764 and volunteers will bring it to their homes.
After the petition is validated, the group has 60 days to come up with the difference if it is short on signatures.
Once it has enough signatures, the governor will call an election, and only the people in the proposed city will vote on whether to incorporate. St. George would be about 80 square miles of the southern part of the parish and include more than 100,000 people.
The soonest an election can be held is this fall. The group has missed the deadline for the May election.
The Better Together group made waves earlier this month when it sent a mailer to every person who signed the petition, giving them forms to remove their signatures.
St. George organizers accused the group of voter intimidation.
People can still fill out forms to remove their signatures by visiting WithdrawStGeorge.com.
So far, only about 80 people have requested their signatures be removed from the petition.
Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter, @rebekahallen. For more coverage of city-parish government, follow City Hall Buzz blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/cityhallbuzz/2015/02/24/will-st-george-petition-enough-signatures-84-removed-names-13-percent-invalidated/http://bettertogetherbr.org/">http://blogs.theadvocate.com/cityhallbuzz.