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New Orleans to hold first post-Katrina election

New Orleans plans to hold city elections in the spring by distributing absentee ballots to displaced residents.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A panel of lawmakers has approved a plan to hold city elections in the spring by distributing absentee ballots to displaced residents and establishing new polling places to replace those devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

The joint House-Senate committee that backed the plan Monday was under pressure from a federal judge who has threatened to take over the planning process if the state does not set dates for April elections by Tuesday.

Secretary of State Al Ater, who came up with the emergency plan, told the panel he would recommend to Gov. Kathleen Blanco that she set an April 22 date for the election.

Blanco was expected to do so on Tuesday, although the proposal still needs approval by the full Legislature and the Justice Department.

Blanco called off elections set for Feb. 4 in New Orleans because so many voters were displaced and voting places heavily damaged by the Aug. 29 storm. Races for mayor, city council, sheriff and tax assessors are among those on the ballot.

Ater’s plan envisions distributing absentee ballots to voters across the nation and creating “super-polling stations” within the city that would accommodate voters from neighborhoods that were flooded.

Committee members said the plan needs revision to ensure that the maximum number of voters are reached. Changes could be proposed during a special legislative session that starts Feb. 6.

“It is not a perfect plan. It is a work in progress,” said committee chairman Sen. Charles Jones.

On Wednesday, federal Judge Ivan Lemelle is scheduled to question state officials on what steps have been taken to give New Orleans residents a chance to vote.