updated 3/16/2006 4:41:46 PM ET 2006-03-16T21:41:46

Over the bitter objections of some black leaders, the Justice Department approved a plan Thursday for New Orleans’ first elections since Hurricane Katrina.

The department still needs to approve a few polling place changes but otherwise gave its blessing to plans to hold elections for mayor, City Council and other posts on April 22. Department officials also said they will send observers to monitor the balloting.

Black leaders have charged that Louisiana officials have not done enough to ensure that voters scattered by the storm will be able to vote. The state plans to set up satellite polling places around the state for New Orleans residents driven from their homes, but chose not to create such stations outside Louisiana.

“Two-thirds of the eligible population has been disenfranchised,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson complained after the Justice Department decision. “This is more onerous than the poll tax laws of 1965.”

The civil rights leader said he will organize marches and sue to block the election.

Fear of diminished power
New Orleans was about 70 percent black before Katrina, and some black residents fear they will lose political power if the elections go forward now, when fewer than half of the city’s 465,000 inhabitants before the storm have come back.

The NAACP’s national president, Bruce S. Gordon, was among those who had urged the Justice Department to block the elections.

The mayoral election was orginally scheduled for Feb. 4 but was postponed because of the damage and dislocation caused the Katrina.

Election procedures in Louisiana and many other Southern states are subject to Justice Department approval because of their history of racial discrimination.

Louisiana Secretary of State Al Ater has vigorously defended the plan. In addition to setting up the satellite voting stations, state officials are making it easier to vote by mail and plan to come to New Orleans to help strapped city agencies.

Also, information packets were sent to displaced voters on how to vote by mail and full-page ads were placed in newspapers around the country to tell New Orleans residents about the election.

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