Now What? Rapides, LA Considers Options After Error Mars Tax Election

[Image via Flickr use JohnE777]

Rapides Parish (Alexandria), LA is considering its options after a recent tax election was marred by the erroneous exclusion of two precincts. TheTownTalk has more:

Election officials still don’t know why some eligible voters in Rapides Parish were not able to vote on a drainage tax in Saturday’s election, but it will likely be up to a judge to decide what to do about it.

Voters in two precincts who should have been able to vote for a proposed tax in Gravity Drainage District No. 2 did not have the option.

A total of 284 people who showed up to vote in the election were unable to vote on the tax due to an error. The tax passed by 42 votes.

“We don’t know why this happened,” said Rapides Parish Registrar of Voters Linda Stewart. “We have never had an occasion like this where a large group of people was not allowed to vote.”

The voters in question were in Precinct 41, which includes part of the Good Earth subdivision, and Precinct 42, which includes parts of the Landmark and Tennyson Oaks neighborhoods.

In Precinct 41, there were 934 registered voters eligible to vote for or against the tax. Of those, 161 voted in the election (Alexandria City Marshal was the other race on the ballot).

In Precinct 42, there were 587 registered voters eligible to vote on the tax. Of those, 123 voted in the election.

Stewart said the addresses for the voters in question were entered correctly in the Elections Registration and Information Network, the data system used by the Louisiana Secretary of State. It’s still unclear how the error occurred that resulted in eligible voters not having the option to vote on the proposal.

To her credit, while the clerk can’t explain the error, she’s owning it – and vows to work to fix the problem:

 “The buck stops with me,” Stewart said. “I feel a responsibility that this happened. We want this to be a fair election, and there is a process for the error to be corrected and that to happen.”

That process begins with someone contesting the election within 60 days.

According to the State of Louisiana Election Code, an election can be contested if someone alleges that the result would have been different if not for irregularities or fraud. There were clearly enough votes to affect the election result.

The petition would go to the Ninth Judicial District Court, where a judge would decide how to proceed. If the judge determines enough qualified voters were denied the right to vote to affect the election result — as seems obvious in this case — they would have multiple options.

The judge could declare the election void. It would then be up to the drainage district board to call for a new election.

According to the election code, the judge could also call a restricted election, and specify which voters are eligible to vote. That could mean holding a revote only in precincts 41 and 42, with only people who voted Saturday eligible to cast ballots. But that would be an unusual step.

A new vote could potentially be held in the Nov. 6 elections.

My guess is that the court will simply order the entire election to be re-run rather than allow a restricted vote, which would essentially let the voters in those two precincts decide the election with more foreknowledge of the outcome than their neighbors. But that remains to be seen – and could be affected by what local officials learn about the source of the error in the first place. Stay tuned!

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