NEW ORLEANS – Whether or not drivers will continue to pay a toll to cross the Crescent City Connection may not be decided until the weekend, according to the Orleans Parish Clerk of Court.
Despite over 300,000 votes having been cast in Orleans, Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes, the current margin has tolls being extended for another 20 years by the narrowest of margins – 8 votes.
However, there are still votes to be counted. The deadline to accept overseas and military ballots was extended until 8 p.m. Wednesday due to Hurricane Sandy.
“Counting of votes is not a race as far as I’m concerned,” said Sandra Wilson, the Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters. “It deals more with accuracy and accountability.”
Eyewitness News political analyst and Gambit columnist Clancy DuBos was at the Clerk of Court's office well into the night and Wednesday morning, as nearly 4,000 absentee, mail-in, e-mailed and written military ballots were counted by hand.
Earlier Tuesday evening, it appeared the toll extension had been defeated by just 45 votes, but DuBos reported just after 3 a.m. that the later vote tally showed the toll extension passing by eight votes. DuBos quoted unofficial returns showing a yes (renewal) vote of 154,373 and a no vote (calling for the tolls to expire) of 154,365. Voters in Orleans, Jefferson and Plaquemines voted on the measure.
The clerks of court have through next Tuesday to count the military/overseas ballots, which could change the eight vote margin of victory.
Secretary of State figures were still showing the toll extension as failing, however. It will take an official certification of the vote to be sure. That could be delayed until next week.
Going into counting absentee and early voting, 100 percent of precincts had the toll renewal being rejected by 874 votes. But then the Orleans totals changed the scenario.
It was a nearly 50/50 split among metropolitan area voters, with much of the voting divided alongside the Mississippi River.
Many on the east bank followed local leaders’ requests to keep the tolls running for another 20 years, to pay for upkeep such as grass cutting, trash pick-up and lighting.
“We do not want to risk the maintenance, the public safety or the future economic development for 40 cents,” said New Orleans City Council Vice President Jackie Clarkson earlier in the week, remarking on the cost for drivers who have toll tags pay to cross the CCC.
On the other side of the river, a majority of the West Bank voted to do away with the $1 tolls. Critics of the tolls said there was no need for them.
"The numbers speak volumes that the West Bankers have paid and paid and paid," said state Rep. Patrick Connick, R-Marrero, last month, "and what we have gotten in return is very little, and it's gotta end."
Connick cited numbers from the last 12 months showing that money collected from toll tag holders in Jefferson Parish was $3.4 million, far more than the amount collected from those in Orleans and Plaquemines parishes.
On another note, East Baton Rouge Parish had to count 3,600 ballots by hand on Tuesday night. The clerk in EBR parish reported being done at 9 p.m., while the clerk in Orleans reported finishing counting 4,000 ballots at 3 a.m.