(CNSNews.com) - The city of New Orleans may be on the verge of electing its first white mayor in nearly 30 years, following the evacuation of about 300,000 registered voters from hurricane-devastated Orleans Parish, election observers say.
Jesse Jackson, founder and president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, claims the evacuated black residents are about to see their voting rights denied. "Katrina's survivors are about to be brutalized once more," Jackson wrote in a Chicago Sun Times column that was published Tuesday.
The Louisiana state government has made provisions for the state's evacuees to have an early and extended voting period at selected locations throughout the state to cast their ballots for state and local offices. The secretary of state's office is also planning to mail an estimated 700,000 voter information packets to registered voters currently living outside of Louisiana, including many of those who fled New Orleans as a result of Hurricane Katrina in late August.
But Jackson is not satisfied with the steps taken thus far, ahead of the April 22 mayoral election in New Orleans. "New Orleans has gone from two-thirds African American to majority white," Jackson wrote in the Sun Times column.
Katrina's survivors, he stated, "withstood the havoc wreaked by the hurricane. They overcame the failure of national, state and local officials to provide basic relief in the wake of the storm.
"Now their rights are about to be trampled once more in an injustice that may finally do more to destroy New Orleans than the storm did, by forcibly disenfranchising the city's black majority," Jackson wrote.
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who along with Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and President Bush has faced harsh criticism for his decision-making in the hours and days before the storm blasted the Gulf Coast, faces 23 opponents in the April 22 contest. The top two vote-getters would then vie in a May 20 run-off.
Mayoral candidate Peggy Wilson dismissed any concerns about the suppression of African American votes. "That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard of -- absolutely has no basis in fact," Wilson told Cybercast News Service. Wilson has received the Republican Party's endorsement.
"Everybody has known for a long time that we have an election coming up. We have an election for mayor every four years and for the city council. It's not a secret and it's very easy for anyone who wants to vote to have access to a ballot or to come back into town," Wilson said.
But many in the media are focusing on the election's potential to make history
According to an article published Wednesday on the Louisiana website BayouBuzz.com, "the city of New Orleans this spring might choose its first white mayor in almost 30 years, an outcome considered unfathomable just over six months ago."
Another online article published Wednesday in the liberal IndyMedia.org was entitled: "The Whitewashing of New Orleans."
"Before Hurricane Katrina passed by, 67.3 percent of city residents were Black. In post-Katrina New Orleans, it is estimated that 60 percent of the population is White," the IndyMedia.org article stated.
Ernie Roberson, the registrar of voters in Caddo Parish, La., acknowledged to the Shreveport Times on March 8 that the plan for sending out absentee voting packets "is experimental."
"It's the first time it has been tried in the country, but this situation has never arisen before," Roberson told the newspaper.
Out-of-state Louisiana voters will have the options of voting before the election at selected sites around the state, voting on Election Day, or mailing in absentee ballots.
The absentee voting option is what worries many concerned about minority voting rights.
BayouBuzz.com predicts absentee ballots mailed to scattered evacuees will have limited impact because "much of the mail will no doubt accumulate at FEMA-paid motel rooms now vacated."
Civil rights advocates allege that the U.S. government did more to provide satellite voting locations for Iraqi expatriates voting in the Iraqi elections than it is doing for displaced residents of New Orleans and Orleans Parish.
"Louisiana and the Bush administration have refused to provide satellite voting places for those dispersed. They have refused to provide an absentee ballot to every displaced registered voter. Louisiana has been given the addresses of registered voters who have been displaced but, incredibly, has refused to make it available to the local candidates or election officials. They are planning to hold an election with a secret voting roll in New Orleans," Jackson wrote.
He also believes there is a "conspiracy" to keep black voters away from the polls.
"Louisiana, by refusing to release the voting rolls of the dispersed citizens of New Orleans, and by conspiring with the Bush administration to deny dispersed registered residents ready access to polling booths and absentee ballots, is once more acting with blatant discriminatory effect," Jackson stated.
"We will not allow voting rights to be trampled by those happy to build a New Orleans stripped of its racial majority," he added.
Bruce Gordon, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), has requested that U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales review the election plan to ensure there are no violations of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
"Louisiana should make extraordinary efforts to fully devise a plan for setting up and implementing effective absentee ballot measures, including satellite voting booths in Louisiana cities with large concentrations of displaced residents, as well as in surrounding states where displaced Louisiana residents have temporarily relocated," Gordon said on March 3.
The racial make-up of New Orleans has been the subject of controversy since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005. Nagin in January called for the rebuilding of a "chocolate New Orleans."
"You can't have New Orleans no other way," Nagin said. He later apologized for those comments.
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