Monday, April 24, 2006


A Big Government Production


Secretary of State Al Ater got it from both sides. When he called for postponing the initial Feb. 4 election date, white conservatives accused him of violating their voting rights and protecting African-American officeholders. Once the governor called the election--backed up by a federal judge's order--some black leaders accused Ater of rushing the vote to help white politicians by making it harder for those out-of-state to participate.

The major voting activity took place at four mega-sites that consolidated about a third of the city's precincts. There, people did not reach the front doors before being greeted by election workers, clad in purple shirts with the state seal, to direct them to the correct tables.

No expense was spared, it seemed, which was not hard given the $4 million budget, about ten times the cost of the normal city election. At an election eve workers rally, Ater joked to the sea of purple shirts, "For $10 million, I would have thrown in the khakis."

The extra workers won't be available for every election, but the roomy mega-sites were a big hit, according to the exit comments of voters. "You should do this every time," one told Ater. He would like to. He got the idea from legislation he is supporting to set up early voting centers in high-traffic areas, such as malls. Critics say the centers would be ripe for fraud, but in-person voting, even at the mall, is far more secure than any mailed or faxed ballot.

On a final victory lap of polling places late in the afternoon, Ater told more than one out-of-town commissioner, "This is the best election New Orleans has had, with Jefferson, St. Tammany and Calcasieu people running it."

Statewide officials are usually careful not to make such cracks about the once-largest city.

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