Parish election officials don’t seem overly worried about the pending lawsuits targeting Louisiana’s proposed election maps for Congress and the Legislature. But some registrars and clerks are losing sleep over local redistricting plans.
Already there has been one municipal-level election held, voided and rescheduled for June 4 due to the late arrival of a redistricting plan. While most of us probably missed that development, local officials across the state certainly took notice—and silently hoped the same doesn’t happen to them.
Louisiana’s March ballot hosted a city council race in Sulphur that resulted in a 26-vote difference between the two candidates. A challenge revealed voters in incorrect districts and Calcasieu Registrar of Voters Kim Fontenot told a judge she was presented with the new election lines just weeks before the primary. Typically, her office has months to work with new data.
School boards, parish councils and other local bodies have until June 20 to submit their final redistricting plans. The law requires the new lines to be completed four weeks prior to qualifying for the fall ballot, which is scheduled to begin July 20. Not all of these local bodies have elections on the fall ballot, but those that do are under the gun.
Based on interviews with local officials, association representatives and consultants, most parish councils, police juries and school boards, or roughly 85%, have concluded their redistricting work. The rest are making folks nervous.
“This could get a bit tricky, especially for the registrars,” says Calcasieu Clerk of Court Lynn Jones.
Baton Rouge attorney Dannie Garrett, who’s working with several school boards around the state on redistricting plans, says he expected plans to be approved in LaSalle Parish this week, in Grant next week and in Iberville over the next two weeks.
Garrett says he respects the job of local election officials and believes school boards have worked hard to make the upcoming deadline. Most people are unaware of the challenges involved in implementing new election lines, he adds. “It’s both a simple and a complex process.”
Then there’s the Jefferson Parish School Board, which voted last week to begin work on an entirely new redistricting plan that includes two additional members. While that decision is cutting it close in terms of the approaching deadline, school board members there believe they can have a revised plan ready for their regular June 1 meeting, if not earlier.
As for the legal challenges launched against the latest congressional map, a status hearing was held Monday in the Middle District for the case filed by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, ACLU of Louisiana and the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison.
U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick is being asked to reject the congressional map drawn by the Legislature because it includes only one district out of six led by Black voters. In Louisiana, two out of every six residents are Black, the plaintiffs argue, and our congressional districts should match that ratio.
Qualifying for the fall ballot, which begins July 20, plays an important role in this case as well. Election officials need to know which map to use—whether it be the map with two majority-Black districts proposed by plaintiffs; the current congressional map, which courts have defaulted to in other states; or something else.
The congressional map in question has been through hell and back. Lawmakers approved new election lines in a special session earlier this year, only to see them vetoed by Gov. John Bel Edwards, who claimed the House- and Senate-passed map violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Legislature, however, voted to override his veto in March.
The plaintiffs filed their lawsuit not long after the override vote, and now the fate of our next congressional map is wrapped up in a court battle that is far from over. Like parish election officials looking for their own local redistricting plans, there’s nothing we can do but wait on the courts.