Candidates for the new Lafayette City Council are being hindered from campaigning because the Louisiana Secretary of State Office will not release lists of registered voters in the five new City Council districts despite a judge's order to make the changes detailed in a City-Parish Council ordinance.
"It's absolutely frustrating," District 1 Lafayette City Council candidate Sarah Gauthier Roy said. "My gut is telling me there is a political movement behind this, but I have zero proof."
A newcomer to politics, Roy said she's been trying to get a list of the registered voters in her district since at least March when the City-Parish Council approved an ordinance correcting errors with district boundary descriptions inadvertently created with a Dec. 8 voter-approved home rule charter amendment that created separate city and parish councils.
Someone at the Secretary of State Office told Roy as long as the ordinance is under appeal they would not update the city districts. More recently, Roy said she was told the deadline to provide the voter registration lists is five days before qualifying begins Aug. 6 for the Oct. 12 city council elections.
Roy said she's trying to knock on the doors of District 1 registered voters to ask constituents about their concerns and to get her name out there. Without registered voter lists, her only option is to knock on random doors "and that's not advisable or safe," she said.
New city and parish councils were approved by voters via a home rule charter amendment Dec. 8, but descriptions of the new districts contained errors the council corrected via an ordinance in March. Opponents want another public vote on the charter amendment with the corrected descriptions.
Businessman Keith Kishbaugh and Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin sued to halt the council-approved corrections and lost. Both have appealed.
The Secretary of State's Office on June 6 also asked the Third Circuit Court of Appeal to pause implementation of the boundary changes per the council ordinance, which is what 15th Judicial District Court Judge John Trahan ruled May 8, until the appeal is decided.
Ardoin said Tuesday his office is working on updating the district boundaries and voter lists, and will meet the Aug. 1 statutory deadline.
But Lafayette attorney Gary McGoffin said the Secretary of State's Office has had the corrected council district descriptions since the May 8 trial when they were presented by demographer Mike Hefner. McGoffin represents six of more than 300 city of Lafayette voters who won't have a council district without the council corrections.
"You have to act as though the council ordinance is the law of the land until the appeals court rules," he said.
The Secretary of State's Office, McGoffin said, is in violation of two May judgments by Trahan, who said errors with the boundaries may be corrected with a council ordinance instead of a vote of the public.
"They're asking the appeal court to reverse Judge Trahan and grant a stay which essentially would have the effect of an injunction, which they lost at trial," McGoffin said. "They're saying while we await the appeals court and state supreme court decisions, we want to stop the election from happening pursuant to the corrective ordinance adopted in March."
McGoffin suggested candidates for the new Lafayette City Council file a lawsuit compelling the Secretary of State's Office to release the voter registration lists before the Aug. 1 deadline.
"Candidates are wanting their lists quickly," Ardoin said, "but I’m wanting to make sure it's done correctly."
Essentially, if voter lists are released now and the appeals court rules against Trahan's decision it will create chaos, he said.
If the appeals court does not grant Ardoin's request to delay the boundary changes by the start of qualifying Aug. 6, Ardoin said he will follow Trahan's direction "because we will have assumed the appellate court had determined it was not going to stop the (Oct. 12) election for a clearer decision. We will hold qualifying for those districts."
If the court grants the appeal after qualifying has taken place, Ardoin said the appeals court will have to stop the council election.
Ardoin and Attorney General Jeff Landry filed a request to expedite the appeal keeping in mind qualifying is fast approaching.
Lafayette attorney Lane Roy, who represents Kishbaugh, said Friday the plaintiffs' appeal briefs are due July 1. McGoffin said the defendants' briefs are due July 22. Normally, he said, oral arguments would take place 30 days later, which would be past the qualifying dates to run for the new city council seats.
Ardoin denied Tuesday he's trying to delay or cancel elections this fall for the new city council seats.
"I’m hoping that we can hold this election," he said. "My goal is not to impede the will of the people. My goal is to make sure the election … can withstand a court challenge."
Kevin Blanchard of Fix the Charter said Ardoin and Kishbaugh are standing in the way of the fall elections, which the public voted on and support.
"The only reason for them to keep litigating the same thing over and over again is because they want to undo the charter election and have a re-vote," Blanchard said. "That’s not democracy. That’s sour grapes. The people have spoken already at the ballot box. Let’s let them speak again this fall."
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