New Orleans Stands Up By Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. 4/4/2006 - Tribune Media Services
Thousands of New Orleans residents marched on Saturday to demand the right to vote. They marched across the Mississippi River Bridge where Gretna police had repelled residents as they tried to escape the horrors of Katrina. Forty years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, African Americans once more must march to gain the right to vote.

There's an election called for New Orleans on April 22, but the South has always had elections. After centuries of slavery and segregation, the reason for the Voting Rights Act was to defend the right of blacks to vote. The Act requires the federal government clear ahead of time - preclearance - any changes in voting procedures to protect against any trick or scheme that would dilute the voting rights of minorities in those areas of the country with a history of discrimination.

Yet in New Orleans, the letter and the spirit of the Voting Rights Act are being violated. And the rights of New Orleans residents to vote are being trampled. Displaced by Katrina's furies, stranded by FEMA's failures, these citizens are now being betrayed by callous state and federal officials intent on denying them a voice in the future of their city.

New Orleans, once a city of 450,000, now has about 150,000 residents. The rest ? disproportionately African Americans, workers and the poor ? have been scattered across 49 states in federally arranged relocations. These are citizens, tax payers, often home owners, whose houses have been destroyed and jobs shut down. Their return to New Orleans has been stymied by federal, state and local officials failing to respond adequately to Katrina?s damage.

In place of getting people back to their homes, federal and state officials now seem intent on denying them a vote on those who will represent them.

How is it done? It's brutal and simple. The state of Louisiana and the federal government have refused to set up satellite voting places in states where New Orleans residents are scattered. The Bush administration provided satellite voting for Iraqis to vote in the Iraqi election ? with same day voter registration. It did the same for Mexican-Americans to vote in the Mexican election. But neither the state nor the Bush administration will spend the small sums required to set up satellite stations in the US for US citizens displaced by a natural storm and an incompetent administration.

The dispersed are told to vote by absentee ballot. They have to write to get a ballot (it won't be supplied to them) sent by mail, and send it back by mail. But many don't know what their address will be next week, as FEMA keeps jacking them about. And the damage wrought by Katrina means that the mail still doesn't work well.

Even residents in the damaged areas that live in New Orleans will have a hard time voting. The state has certified a range of election places that in fact are destroyed. Officials will change or eliminate those places at the last minute ? voters are likely to be both confused about where to vote and find long lines in the few places where they can vote.

And to add insult to the injury, the state of Louisiana has an updated voter list that contains the addresses of all those displaced across the country ? but it won?t supply the list to the candidates. So candidates don?t know where their voters are, and many voters will have no idea who the candidates are.

This looks less like an accident than a design - either way it is clearly illegal under the Voting Rights Act. It will - and it is hard to see anything but malign intent - lower the African American vote drastically. This will impact who governs New Orleans, and who represents the region in the state, the Congress and the US Senate.

Bush named Karl Rove to head up the New Orleans recovery after the FEMA failures even though he had no experience in emergency relief or recovery. What Rove knows is how to count votes and win elections. It may take brutalizing Katrina-s survivors once more, and trampling the Voting Rights Act, but the administration seems intent on suppressing the African American vote in New Orleans and in Louisiana.

And so like the marchers in Selma forty-one years ago, thousands of citizens in New Orleans march for the right to vote. They demand that the election be postponed until September so that (1) the updated voter roll is shared with candidates; (2) satellite voting places are provided in states across the country; (3) voting places in sufficient number are secured throughout New Orleans, and (4) that all changes are reviewed and cleared ahead of time by career officials at the Justice Department to insure that the Voting Rights Act is enforced.

Katrina-s survivors have remarkable spirit. They have survived the ravages of nature. Suffered the catastrophic callousness of the administration. Overcome the discouragements of deprivation and displacement. Many have lost their homes, their livelihoods, their neighborhoods. But they have fought too hard, and stayed strong too long to allow officials now to trample their right to vote.

Send a letter to the following decision maker(s):

Governor Kathleen Blanco (if you live in LA)

Below is the sample letter:

Subject: Demand Voting Rights in New Orleans: Call Governor Blanco NOW

Dear [decision maker name automatically inserted here],
Dear Governor Blanco:

On April 1, thousands of people marched and rallied to support the Katrina survivors right to return, their right to an open, free and fair election, and their right to fully participate in the rebuilding and reconstruction of New Orleans.

The planned April 22 New Orleans election violates the Voting Rights Act and will disenfranchise Katrina survivors dispersed and displaced around the country.

We urge you to issue an immediate Executive Order to set up satellite polling places in the cities and states where Katrina survivors now reside. Secondly, we urge you to work with the Attorney General and Secretary of State to produce and make available to candiates and the public an updated voter roll. Currently, candidates do not know who and where voters are and cannot contact them; voters outside of New Orleans do not know who the candidates are and, in many cases, how to cast their ballot.

Lastly, absentee ballot voting procedures leave Katrina survivors with unequal access to voting. And first time voters, no matter how far from New Orleans they may be, must travel and vote at their designated precinct in the city.

As Governor of Louisiana, I urge you to exercise your sacred duty to protect the democratic voting rights of Katrina survivors, and move quickly to enact these measures.