Monday, April 17, 2006
NEW ORLEANS: A FOREBODING SILENCE AT THE BALLOT BOX
A Foreboding Silence at the Ballot Box
Guest Commentary by Lance Hill
Only 4% of the 188,166 registered black voters cast votes last week in the weeklong early voting period for the April 22 New Orleans election for mayor and other offices. Special polls were set up in eleven parishes statewide as part of a early voting plan devised by Louisiana election officials to ensure participation by voters displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
The poor turnout does not bode well for black participation Saturday's election. As New Orleans approaches it's most important Mayoral election in history, fully 96% of registered black voters, most of whom are still displaced from the city, will be forced to vote by absentee ballot or travel to New Orleans and vote in person. It is unlikely that most displaced black voters will be able to return to vote. Even before hurricane Katrina hit the city last August, fully 27% of the city's population lacked private transportation necessary to evacuate--the highest percentage of any major city in the United Sates. Displaced voters have until Friday to request absentee ballots, which require strong literacy skills to properly complete and must include signatures of two witnesses or be notarized. Turnout for the 90,667 white voters, most of whom have returned home, is expected to be high.
New Orleans may be facing the sharpest decline in black voter participation in an election since 1898, when a new state constitution used educational and property qualifications to disfranchise 95% of the state's 135,664 black voters.
Lance Hill is Executive Director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research at Tulane University and author of "Deacons of Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement. He can be reached a Lhill@tulane.edu