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Emmanuel Zanders pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of election fraud Monday.

AMITE CITY — An Amite City councilman indicted in January on a slew of felony election fraud charges pleaded guilty Monday to one misdemeanor count after striking a deal with the district attorney.

Emmanuel Zanders III, an eight-year District 3 councilman and former Amite City Mayor Pro Tem, will resign from his council seat as part of the deal.

Zanders, 52, initially faced eight felony counts of violating Louisiana’s election integrity laws. Attorney General Jeff Landry announced those charges at the height of Republican accusations of voter fraud after former President Donald Trump's election loss.

Zanders earned a third term on the council on Dec. 5, 2020 when he won a runoff election by 19 votes over local businesswoman Claire Bel.

The Tangipahoa Parish Registrar of Voters contacted the Secretary of State's office in October after noticing some voter registration forms had been submitted with fraudulent addresses, Landry said at a January press conference in Baton Rouge announcing Zanders’ charges.

Investigators from the attorney general’s office later found two addresses for separate, vacant lots in Amite’s District 3 — one had had six people registered to vote and the other had 16 registrants, the attorney general said.

Landry said Zanders "purposefully manipulated citizens," having them sign their voter registration form before he later filled out the address on his own.

“Anything other than one-for-one votes distorts our election process, and those who wish to distort an election process in this manner are breaking the law and betraying their fellow citizens," Landry said in January.

Some officials in Amite City, though, saw the spectacle surrounding the indictment of Zanders as part of a play by Landry and Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin to use the 4,400-person town for political gain.

The charges against Zanders were announced after several weeks in which President Donald Trump amplified unfounded claims that he had lost the election because of fraud. Landry's press conference was on Jan. 6 — the day supporters of Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol trying to halt certification of the election results. 

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"I think they’re using the town here," longtime Amite councilman Jonathan Foster told The Advocate after Landry announced the charges. "Going through these press conferences and all of that, I figure they must be bored.”

External politics did not inform how the 21st Judicial District Attorney’s Office approached plea negotiations in the case, District Attorney Scott Perrilloux said Monday. Perrilloux said the councilman’s lack of a prior criminal record and the “expediency factor" of his resignation, which will allow someone new to join the Council, informed prosecutors' decision to reduce the charges.

The District Attorney thanked the offices of the Attorney General and the Secretary of State for investigating the case.

Zanders is set to be sentenced July 28. If he fails to tender his resignation from the Council before then, he risks the felony charges he initially faced being reinstated, judge Charlotte Foster said in Monday's hearing.

Charles told Foster that her client has prepared his resignation and will submit it to the Secretary of State's office in the coming days.

Zanders declined to comment on his plea deal Monday, deferring to his defense lawyer.

Charles, who is an NAACP staff lawyer but is representing Zanders as his private counsel, said she hopes the spectacle Landry’s office created around Zanders’ case won’t deter Black voters in Tangipahoa Parish from heading to the polls in the future.

“We still want Black voters to feel encouraged to come vote,” Charles said. “We don’t want to discourage that participation.”


James Finn writes for The Advocate as a Report For America corps member. Email him at JFinn@theadvocate.com or follow him on Twitter @RJamesFinn.

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