voting stock ballot election

With early voting already underway, some confusion has arisen among voters in southeast East Baton Rouge Parish over whether they'll get to vote on incorporating the proposed city of St. George during the Oct. 12 elections. 

The parish's Register of Voters Steve Raborn said his office has already received more than two dozens calls from voters who didn't know whether measure would appear on their ballots.

"Most of the questions are coming from people who live near the St. George area but are not exactly in the St. George boundaries," Raborn said Monday.

Some may have been within the boundaries of a previous effort to create the parish's fifth city, Raborn said, but are no longer in it because organizers shrunk the area to be included in St. George.

Jeannie Willamson is among voters who found themselves confused by the boundary changes.

Her neighborhood was in the proposed map St. George organizers used for a previous incorporation campaign that in 2015 fell short of the 71 signatures needed to put the proposal before voters. 

That original attempt would have created a city in the southeast corner of the parish around 85 square miles with 107,000 people, including Gardere and neighborhoods north of South Harrell's Ferry Road. 

But when the St. George effort was renewed in March 2018, the proposed city's boundaries spanned 60 square miles, extending from La. 30 on the west to the Amite River on the east in the southeastern corner of the parish.

The map reduced St. George's population to more than 86,000 people. It was criticized by opponents who argued the line were redrawn to carve out condominiums and apartments that were home to a heavy concentration of black residents. 

St. George proponents have previously said they simply removed all the areas where there was strong opposition to incorporation during their first effort.  

But Williamson, who is white and resides in a condominium in the 900 block of Ridgepoint Court, pointed out to The Advocate on Monday that the boundary lines for the proposed city cut right through several neighboring apartment complexes and buildings on her block.  

"I was using their map as a tool to decide whether or not I could vote," Williamson said. "I've talked to some of my neighbors and they appeared to have made up their mind about voting. But I think some of them are going to be surprised when they show up at the polls and realize they can't vote on it due to how some of the boundaries are drawn."

Although there are spots on the map currently posted on St. George's website where it appears the boundary lines don't perfectly align with property lines, Raborn said, the aerial map of the proposed city proponents submitted to his office when their petition drive began is more precise. 

"That map is the one we turned over to the city-parish GIS department and they overlayed it with a voting precinct map of the parish — that's how we were able to tell them how many signatures they needed to get on their petition," Raborn said.

He added that anyone who doesn't know for sure if they fall within the boundaries of the proposed new city "can just call us and we'll research it as best we can for them."

Raborn said his office has received between 30 to 40 phone calls concerning the vote on St. George since early voting started on Saturday.

He said voters can also check their sample ballots on the Louisiana Secretary of State's Office website to see if they're living in the proposed area and get to vote on he issue.

As of Sept. 23, there were 54,683 registered voters in St. George's proposed boundaries. 

"Ultimately we've got to rely on the map St. George gave us because they decided what the boundaries would be," Raborn said. "The map on the website is not quite precise but is close enough."   

Email Terry Jones at tjones@theadvocate.com