NEW ORLEANS — The second day of court proceedings related to the effort to recall New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell was abruptly cut short on Tuesday as both sides reportedly are seeking a deal to establish a number of required signatures needed to force a recall.
As the public waited for the proceedings to begin, lawyers for the NOLATOYA.org campaign and the Louisiana Secretary of State's Office met in Judge Jennifer Medley's chambers before ultimately leaving the courtroom.
The lawyers for both parties involved refused to speak to the media as they exited.
Judge Medley had scheduled a second day of hearings to hear arguments on both sides as recall organizers accused the state of not updating the list of registered voters in New Orleans. Recall organizers claim that the local registrar of voters has not kept an accurate list of active voters in the parish.
The Times-Picayune | New Orleans Advocate reports that Tuesday's hearing was stopped as recall leaders work with the Louisiana Secretary of State's Office on a deal to resolve the lawsuit.
According to state law, the recall petition must gather signatures of 20 percent of registered, active voters in a parish to be considered valid. Initially, organizers sought over 52,000 signatures, based on state figures showing more than 264,000 registered voters. But research led to the target being lowered to somewhere between 49,000 and 50,000 because some of the voters are deemed inactive for reasons such as not having voted in multiple elections.
In a statement, the Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin says maintaining the voter rolls is the responsibility of the Registrar of Voters.
“First and foremost, I reiterate that the responsibility of updating and maintaining an accurate voter registration list falls to the Registrar of Voters in each parish. While my role is limited, my office has complied with each and every process provided and allowed for in law related to voter list maintenance.,” the statement says.
Ardoin, per the statement, goes on to say in part, he’s asked the Governor for stronger procedures to maintain the voter rolls.
“However, I have long argued that the law does not go far enough. It is vital that we have more tools to ensure an accurate voter registration list; namely, a supplemental canvass to address individuals who are deceased, ineligible to vote in Louisiana, or have moved out of state. Despite the fact that many of these voters will not be removed through our current, legally prescribed canvass or monthly list maintenance procedures, Governor Edwards has continued to deny my office and our parish Registrars of Voters this necessary tool by vetoing legislation that would provide for such in 2021 and 2022.”
Recall organizers have gone to court to have the number lowered even further. They say the Orleans Parish voter registrar has failed to cull hundreds of dead voters from the active rolls — and close to 30,000 people who have moved from the city. That could lower the threshold by around 6,000 voters.
The registrar has 20 days to certify signatures and then, if enough are verified, send it to Gov. John Bel Edwards. Edwards would have 15 days to set an election. It's possible a recall could go on the state's April 29 ballot. But, there are numerous unknowns — including how many signatures will or won't be deemed legitimate, and any legal challenges Cantrell might make.
While some believe a settlement between both parties may be a move to help further the recall effort, Dubos says it’s about accuracy.
“The secretary of state doesn’t have a dog in this hunt he doesn’t care one way or another his job is just to run the elections it’s not like we’re going to have a republican mayor, we’re not, so it’s really not about parties and it’s not about race because chances are the next mayor will be African American if the voters so choose, because majority of the voters are African American,” WWLTV commentator Clancy Dubos said.
Court is expected to resume Wednesday. We’ve reached out to the Mayor’s office for comment and have not heard back.
This is a developing story. Stay with WWL-TV for updates as new information becomes available.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.