Gov. John Bel Edwards ordered the delay of upcoming elections that featured important Constitutional questions statewide and the renewal of a tax to fund bus service in Baton Rouge.
Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin made the announcement Wednesday afternoon that Edwards had agreed to reschedule the fall 2021 elections in light of the devastation brought on by Hurricane Ida. The governor’s office didn't confirm the announcement.
The Oct. 9 ballot was full of primaries for three legislative seats, municipal elections in New Orleans, and a 10-year renewal of a property tax for the Capital Area Transit System, or CATS, in Baton Rouge. It also has four Constitutional amendments and a number of questions for localities around the state. A Nov. 13 general election had been scheduled as runoffs for those contests not decided in the primaries.
Those election dates are now shifted back a month.
“I am thankful that the Governor has recognized the importance of our recommendation to move the Oct. 9 election to Nov. 13 and the Nov. 13 election to Dec. 11,” Ardoin said. “This will allow our staff and local partners more time to properly prepare for a statewide election while ensuring the integrity of our election processes and that our voters’ traditional voting habits are as undisturbed as possible.”
Many parts of the state are still without power, some voting locations are damaged and a number of people are still displaced from their homes 10 days after Hurricane Ida roared through southeast Louisiana. Ardoin said his office needs to find where voters had evacuated and how long they will be gone, before he can determine whether an emergency plan is needed for the now postponed elections.
Further details about the certification and legal deadlines required for a proper election will be forthcoming, he added.
The storm affected 42% of the state’s registered voters, Ardoin said.
State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, who as chair of the Senate & Governmental Affairs Committee oversees election-related issues, said Wednesday she supports postponing the balloting.
“It makes a huge task much more doable,” the Slidell Republican said. “The Secretary of State had built a very compelling case (for delaying the vote) … and we need the time to address all those issues.”
Wednesday was the deadline for in-person registration, if the Oct. 9 primaries had proceeded. For nursing home residents the registration deadline would have been Thursday. And by Friday election commissioners across the state have to be chosen, though many local officials don't where all their commissioners are. In 10 days, Ardoin’s office would have had to publish the locations of all the polling places. But Ardoin said he still wasn’t sure which precinct locations had been damaged and where those voting locations could be moved.
Prior to the storm, Ardoin ordered voting machines, which had been stored in secured locations around the state, to Baton Rouge where they could be protected under his office’s eye. Prior to the election, the voting machines would be need to be returned to local regions, meaning his office must find secured storage locations if the previous places had been damaged.
New Orleans has the largest ballot with contests for all the major posts. Thirteen candidates are running against incumbent Mayor LaToya Cantrell. Four candidates are challenging another term for Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman and Assessor Erroll G. Williams has four challengers. All seven seats on the City Council have contested races.
The 29,070 registered voters living in the west bank portions of Orleans Parish can choose between two Democrats competing for the District 102 seat in the Louisiana House. They seek to replace Gary Carter who was elected to the state Senate to succeed Troy Carter when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
The delays add an additional month for officials with Baton Rouge’s bus system to build support for the renewal of its property tax.
The 10-year renewal of the tax at a 10.6 millage rate has been a priority for East Baton Rouge Parish leadership, who warn of dire financial consequences for the Capital Area Transit System if the vote fails. The system was nearing bankruptcy when the tax was first approved in 2012. Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome’s administration and several members of Metro Council have thrown their support behind the bus system.
CATS officials said they anticipated the delay following Hurricane Ida’s landfall.
“We will make the necessary adjustments and continue educating the public on how CATS connects this community,” spokeswoman Amie McNaylor wrote in a text.
Every ballot across the state has four Constitutional amendments, two of which are key components of the bipartisan comprise that would revamp of Louisiana’s tax system that were passed during the legislative earlier this year.
Amendment 1 would lead to centralizing the collections of sales taxes, which are gathered on a local level now under the state Constitution. The change in language would allow the state to set up the system that would collect the taxes on sales and distribute the local portion of the proceeds, rather than the other way around.
Amendment 2 would drop maximum personal income tax rates from 6% to 4.75% and allow legislators to set a permanent new rate of 4.25% in statute, where it could be changed easier. The amendment also would eliminate the deduction on state tax returns for income taxes paid the federal government. Louisiana is one of the few states that allow that exemption and it comprised $795.5 million of the $6.5 billion of forgiven taxes that otherwise would go into state budgets, according to a Louisiana Department of Revenue report.
About eight tax revamp measures are dependent on these two amendments being approved by a majority of the participating voters statewide.
Staff writer Paul Cobler contributed to this report