St. George opponents spent Monday frantically scurrying around town picking up withdrawal forms, while proponents of the proposed city were more relaxed, their work done for now.
When St. George organizers submitted their petition last week, it kicked off a period of five business days during which residents could add or strike their names from the list.
St. George needs 12,951 valid signatures; they claim to have submitted about 14,500.
Many St. George residents were recently on the receiving end of a text blast urging them to reconsider if they had signed the petition. The message directed them to the OneBTR website, where withdrawal forms are located.
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That text was sent to cell phones listed for residents who live within St. George, whether they signed the petition or not, explained Michael Beychok, founder of One Baton Rouge. The nonprofit also posted and advertised on social media.
The group purchased telephone information from the Secretary of State. It could have targeted petition signers, but the group only received the petition after work hours Thursday and there was no time, Beychok said.
It’s a “sad blow to democracy,” that the public has only five days to review a petition before the window closes, said M.E. Cormier, head of Better Together/Residents Against the Breakaway.
The last time St. George attempted to incorporate, opponents had a better chance to respond, and residents were actually able to figure out whether they were on the petition, she added.
Cormier spoke by phone from her car as she headed to Siegen Lane, criss-crossing the southeast of the parish Monday. She said she was picking up withdrawal forms from each zip code in St. George and even offered a pair to people whose names were forged in the last attempt, just in case.
However, she declined to disclose how many withdrawal forms she was expecting to come in.
St. George officials were more nonchalant as they turned in some straggling petition-signers’ paperwork. Andrew Murrell was heading to drop off his lot to the registrar by lunchtime Monday. He hadn’t counted but estimated he had about 100 more names. At this point, each side either has the support it needs or it doesn’t, he said.
Residents may have thought they'd had until November, but the add/drop date isn't fixed on the calendar. Rather, it relied on the day the petition was submitted. When St. George organizers turned their results ahead of the Nov. 27 deadline, it began a period of five business days to add or subtract from the petition.
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The rules technically just say "five days" and proponents and opponents interpreted that to exclude the weekend. It’s probably the closest the two sides will come to agreeing on anything, Murrell said.
Now they will wait for the registrar of voters to tally and verify the signatures. The process has been complicated and likely lengthened as the registrar’s office seeks guidance on what could happen should the city of Baton Rouge begin trying to annex parts of the proposed St. George before the verification is complete.
Whatever the process, ultimately there either will be enough signatures for incorporation or there won’t be. If enough people signed, the matter will proceed to the ballot. If not, another 60-day window will open for proponents to seek more signatures.
Beychok said the law is not clear whether opponents may solicit withdrawals during that time as well. It would be fair to give both sides a chance to campaign, as they have been in this first round, he said.
“If they get 60 days to add, we should get 60 days to withdraw,” Cormier said.