New Orleans Election Recap: Nagin, Landrieu Run-Off
ED GORDON, host:
This is NEWS AND NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon. We'll get to our roundtable in just a moment, but first, a look at the New Orleans mayoral race. On Saturday, residents of New Orleans cast their vote for mayor. The weeks leading up to the election have been full of controversy. Hurricane Katrina displaced more than half of the city's residents, many of them black. Civil rights groups tried to postpone the election, concerned that many displaced African-Americans would not be able to participate.
This morning, we're joined by Louisiana Secretary of State Al Ater. He had the unenviable task of overseeing this election process. Secretary Ater joins us via phone from Louisiana. Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us. Give us a sense of numbers, if you will.
Secretary AL ATER (Secretary of State, Louisiana): Thank you for having us, Ed. You know, we had a very good day. It was an election that went off without a hitch. We had one minor power outage at one of the polling places, but other than that, it was executed perfectly. We're extremely proud of our election staff.
The turnout numbers were a little down from four years ago, but you know, you're talking about a city that back in the ‘90s had a mayoral race that the turnout was in the teens--like 13 or 14 percent. So the turnout's been all over the radar screen, but we feel like the rules, if you will, that we were given and told to conduct an election by were implemented and executed flawlessly. And I think even the candidates and the opponents on both sides of the aisle would tell you that.
GORDON: What about those residents who had to come in from other states--the whole question about satellite polling and voting, etc.--how did that go?
Secretary ATER: Well, you know, we had satellite voting here in the state. The state legislature authorized us to conduct the voting in 10 or 12 locations around the state, like up in the northeast corner and the northwest corner and the central part of the state and the southeast and the southwest corner. And that went flawlessly, also.
There was no authorization given to us to do anything outside of our state. I floated that suggestion way back in October or November. For whatever reason, no one ever picked the ball up and ran with it. You know, I don't know that we can do it. I don't know that it's legal. I was one of the ones that thought it should be explored, but no one else moved down that road until about two or three weeks before the election. Certainly, I hope that wasn't for political reasons. I don't think you can implement something in two or three weeks and do a good job of it. It's taken us about four months to get ready for what we did Saturday, and we were well prepared. And I think it was a very pleasant voting experience for everyone that came.
GORDON: Let me ask you this before we let you go. I understand in black neighborhoods, the turnout was about 50 percent of what we saw in white neighborhoods. A, is that what you understand, and B, do you believe that there could be any grounds to contest the election?
Secretary ATER: No, I do not, not as far as the way the election was conducted. Now, if someone has a problem with the rules or with the lack of rules, if you will, or laws or something like that, perhaps there's a legitimate argument about that. But as far as the rules and the laws that we were given that were approved by the Department of Justice and approved in order to be carried forward by the federal courts, no, I do not, because it was executed perfectly. Everything went just as it was supposed to do.
Now, like I said, there could be legitimate argument, and that's what's the wonderful part about our country is people are free to disagree on what the rules should be…
Secretary ATER: …or what measures should be taken. But as far as what we were given as election administrators to implement that day, it was done flawlessly.
GORDON: And do you agree with those numbers of black to white about 50 percent in terms of…
Secretary ATER: I have not--I didn't get it…
GORDON: Have not seen those.
Secretary ATER: To be honest with you…
GORDON: All right.
Secretary ATER: …but what I look at is overall turnout. Four years ago, in the mayoral race, there were two African-American candidates here, and the total votes cast that day, about 55 percent of the total votes cast that day were from non African-Americans, about 45 percent were from African-Americans. So four years ago, before there was even a hurricane, more whites voted in the mayoral race than did African-Americans. And those are the kind of numbers that I think are relevant, Ed, not necessarily any one particular precinct or something like that. Overall total numbers are where I think you can draw comparisons and see exactly what took place.
GORDON: All right. Louisiana secretary of state Al Ater, thank you so much joining us today. Appreciate it.
Secretary ATER: Thank you for having me, and thank you for all the coverage you all have given us, and that's, I believe, inform a lot of people.
GORDON: All right. Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.