St. George organizers calling on governor to set May election date, but will he?

Organizers of the St. George incorporation effort are calling on Gov. John Bel Edwards to place their initiative on the May 4 ballot.

A post today on the St. George Facebook page says, “We qualify for the May election and believe we deserve to be on that ballot. The (g)overnor has until March 11 to make that determination. This is not a new issue. It’s been debated/dissected for years. Petitioning your government for a vote is a fundamental right in this country that we believe should be held sacred and void of political machinations. …”

If the governor doesn’t put the measure on the May ballot, the next opportunity would be the gubernatorial primary election in October, when turnout—particularly among Democratic voters supporting Edwards in his reelection bid—will be much higher. That, according to conventional political wisdom, would considerably lower the chances of St. George passing.

St. George spokesman Drew Murrell says the post was less a suggestion that politics could be influencing Edwards’ decision and more an exhortation to the governor to hold the vote as soon as possible.

“Initially, we didn’t think we’d have time to get on the May ballot because we were told the signatures wouldn’t be counted until the first week of March so we thought we’d be too late,” he says. “But now that we realize it’s a possibility we just want to have the vote as soon as possible.”

On Feb. 25, at least a week earlier than expected, the East Baton Rouge Parish Registrar of Voters certified the petition for incorporation submitted last fall by St. George organizers. The registrar accepted and certified nearly 14,600 of the some 17,100 signatures submitted—some 28% of voters in the proposed area.

Murrell disputes the notion that a St. George defeat would be more likely in the fall.

“It doesn’t matter which election it’s held in,” he says. “We have so much support it’s going to pass whenever it’s held. We’re just so excited we want to get it done now.”

The governor’s spokesperson was noncommittal when asked whether Edwards is considering placing the St. George issue on the May ballot and whether he is receiving pressure from Mayor Sharon Weston Broome and other opponents of the effort to put off the election until the fall.

“We just received a one page certification from the (East Baton Rouge Parish) clerk of court and have asked the registrar to meet with us to discuss this issue,” spokesperson Christina Stephens says. “Once the governor determines that the legal requirements for the election have been met, he will call it.”

Stephens says the governor’s office just received the certification on Friday and that the time and date for the requested meeting with the registrar’s office has not been set.

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