Government watchdog group says Orleans Registrar of Voters’ office needs to be more transparent

By David Jones

Source: FOX 8

February 27, 2023

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – As the leaders of the effort to recall New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell go head-to-head with the Orleans Registrar of Voters and Louisiana Secretary of State in court over alleged inactive voters, a government watchdog group is calling out the registrar’s office for what it said are points of clarity that the public wants and deserves.

On Monday morning, the registrar’s office put out a statement:

The Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters Office (the “Registrar’s Office”) has received several questions about the next steps taken by the Registrar’s Office since the signed and dated recall petition for the Mayor of New Orleans has been filed by the recall campaign with the Registrar’s Office.

The statement goes on to answer some of the questions it said the office has received, including the timeline for adding or removing a voter’s name from the petition, what the registrar’s office does as part of the verification process, and what the office does once signature verification is complete.

“The Registrar’s Office certifies the following things: (1) the number of names appearing on the recall petition; (2) the number of qualified electors in Orleans Parish whose handwritten signatures appear on the recall petition; (3) the total number of electors of the voting area within Orleans Parish as of August 26, 2022, which is the date the recall petition was filed for the Mayor of New Orleans,” the statement reads.

But Rebecca Mowbray with the Bureau of Governmental Research said the statement and information provided doesn’t go far enough in answering the public’s questions about what the signature verification process actually looks like.

“There are a lot of questions about this process. It is very unusual, and people are going to have a lot of legitimate questions about what’s happening with verifying signatures on the recall petition, how that count is occurring, what are the criteria for deciding whether a signature is valid or not,” Mowbray said. “It is incumbent upon the registrar to be providing that information, and it seems like there are a lot of questions and it’s been since Wednesday and there’s been very little information shared.”

So far, the registrar’s office has not allowed members of the public or the media to view the verification process. A FOX 8 request to view the process went unanswered Monday, along with a request for an interview with Dr. Sandra Wilson (the Orleans Registrar of Voters) and a request for clarification on how much time voters have to add or remove their names.

The statement put out by Wilson’s office said voters have until the end of the business day Monday, which would be five days from when the petition was filed last Wednesday. But, if they were going by business days and not including when City Hall was closed on Saturday and Sunday, voters would actually have until the end of the day this Wednesday.

After court on Monday, a lawyer for Wilson said her office will have 20 business days to verify all the signatures.

“I think the process so far has really not been very clear,” Mowbray said.

Meanwhile, an ongoing court battle could determine the number of signatures needed to certify a recall election.

Dane Ciolino, an attorney and professor of law at Loyola University, said the lawsuit currently being heard in court has to do not with whether there are inactive voters on the rolls in New Orleans, but how many.

“From the allegations in the petition, virtually no doubt that the registrar of voters has not purged all of the inactive voters off these rolls. It’s really just a numbers game at this point,” Ciolino said. “I would expect the district judge in this case is going to come out with some ruling sometime this week.”

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