Supporters and organizers of the proposed city of St. George are big fans of the democratic process.
They frequently say that they simply want the people in the boundaries of the proposed new municipality to have an opportunity to vote on their own future — as is their constitutional right.
And supporters of the measure are often seen on social media or in the press criticizing Baton Rouge officials for attempts to thwart such a vote.
In December 2013, during a debate-style panel featuring community leaders, St. George spokesman Lionel Rainey said their priority was to put the proposal to a vote so residents of the proposed city can decide.
“This is literally democracy at its finest,” Rainey said at the time.
Earlier this year, the Legislature attempted and failed to create a moratorium on incorporations and to impose a November deadline on St. George for their petition. A bill also died that would have allowed everyone in East Baton Rouge Parish to vote on the new city, rather than just the people living in the proposed city limits.
City of Baton Rouge officials also went on the offensive by annexing more than 5 square miles of land that would have otherwise been considered St. George territory.
Mary Olive Pierson, an attorney representing the East Baton Rouge Parish government in St. George-related issues, has said the annexations likely invalidated the petitions that St. George organizers have been working on for the past year, because the boundaries stated in the initial paperwork have since been changed. To that end, City of Baton Rouge officials will legally challenge the petitions, Pierson said.
All of these efforts have been characterized by St. George officials as attacks on the democratic process and their right to vote.
But Pierson said St. George organizers’ are being hypocritical.
She said St. George officials are purposefully delaying an election on the new city proposal until next spring because they prefer the security of a lower voter turnout, which would likely be to their benefit.
She notes that they want the ability to vote, but they want to have the election during a time when the least amount of people will vote against them.
St. George officials recently announced they have obtained and exceeded the requisite 17,746 signatures needed to put the measure to a vote. They’ve already missed their opportunity to have a November election and say they likely won’t meet the deadline for a December election, which pushes them to spring.
The November and December elections feature high-profile state and local races, including contests for U.S. Senate, Congress, school board and state judges.
Rainey has said his organization isn’t going to make the deadline for December because it wants to collect an additional 1,500 signatures to cover its bases in case other signatures are tossed during the verification process by the Registrar of Voters.
But he acknowledged last month that the lower turnout of a spring election would benefit the St. George cause.
“There would likely be a lower turnout for a spring ballot, which would play better for us, but this is a very high-profile issue and not your typical off-cycle initiative,” Rainey said. “So to try and predict the turnout would be difficult.”