If your name showed up on a controversial petition, one that might anger some of your neighbors, you’d be pretty unhappy that somebody put it there. The good news in the latest flap over the St. George petition drive is that the staff of the registrar of voters’ office is weeding out duplicates and finding a few worse cases, apparent fraud.
Registrar Elaine Lamb and her staff were handed an enormous task in the midst of one of the busiest three-year election cycles in memory: Receive and verify some 18,000 signatures on the petition of more than 1,000 pages to create a new city in southeastern Baton Rouge called St. George.
It’s been contentious getting to the point that Lamb’s office can do its work, with much debate over the idea. We continue to have serious concerns about the financials of a new city.
Yet behind those big-picture discussions is the direct democracy that the petition drive represents. A cadre of volunteers, working on card tables in supermarkets and church halls, are not going to be able to provide foolproof results. Some people might just sign the petition casually or provide an erroneous precinct number. The list of things that can go wrong is almost endless.
In this case, only a few apparently forged signatures were found by Lamb’s office. The St. George organizing committee has rightly responded to behavior “contrary to the principles of our organization … something we simply will not tolerate,” in the words of Lionel Rainey.
We don’t know how the math will work out. Perhaps enough signatures will be invalidated to prevent an election. Lamb’s office said Monday that the petition is 2,694 signatures short.
Under state law, St. George organizers have 60 days to make up the difference. St. George leaders said earlier this month they already had a contingency of about 1,250 signatures.
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 that election.
Yet the concerns for better services and higher quality public education that spurred Rainey and others in this effort won’t go away, election or not. So community leaders on all sides of the St. George debate ought to continue to address the underlying concerns of this large swath of the community.
But whether an election ensues or not, it’s pretty impressive that St. George organizers have produced so many legitimate, verified signatures. This kind of volunteer drive is a difficult hurdle, and we don’t see any evidence that the larger effort is now tainted by the few cases found so far.