07 30 2016
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The Wake of Vanport

Bruce S. Gordon

NEW ORLEANS—The NAACP urged the Justice Department on Monday to block the upcoming mayoral election, claiming more must be done to reach displaced city residents, most of whom are Black.

The elections "cannot be conducted in a way that would guarantee, or provide some level of assurance, that substantial percentages of African Americans, substantial percentages of New Orleanians, in fact, would be able to vote," said Bruce S. Gordon, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Gordon's allegations were strongly denounced by Louisiana's top election official.

"This will be the most accessible race in the history of America," said Secretary of State Al Ater.

A federal judge has turned back challenges to the election and pressed state officials to make sure it is held by the end of April. But before the election can take place as scheduled April 22, the Justice Department must give its blessing.

Gordon said the department is expected to rule this week. Eric Holland, a Justice Department spokesperson, would not comment.

Primary races for mayor and many other city positions were originally scheduled for Feb. 4, but were pushed back because so many polling stations were destroyed and election workers and voters scattered by Hurricane Katrina.

In the city itself, there will be super-polling places on election day that combine flooded-outprecincts. Around Louisiana, polling places will be set up for displaced voters to cast early absentee ballots. Also, state workers will be deputized to help local offices. Around the country, full-page newspaper ads and television spots are being used to inform voters how to vote by mail.

The NAACP says satellite polling stations should be set up in cities outside Louisiana, especially in Houston and Atlanta where there are large numbers of displaced New Orleanians. Ater said it would not be possible now to add that to the plan.

"We're just in a new territory, a new area where this has never been done before," said Linda Walker, head of New Orleans branch of the League of Women Voters. The plan "is probably adequate for what we have right now, but is it completely fair? I can't say at this point."

The fairness of the election probably can't be determined until after the primary when it's clear who voted and who didn't, Walker said.

— The Associated Press

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