Hurricane Ida’s damage forces Louisiana voting site changes

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Hurricane Ida’s destruction across southeastern Louisiana will force thousands of voters to cast their ballots at different polling locations for next month’s election, with some voting sites relegated to large tents because few area buildings were free of damage.

Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said Tuesday that elections officials are working to notify people about the dozens of voting location changes through mail, advertising and signs. The Nov. 13 election already was pushed back several weeks because of the storm.

“We’ve worked really hard to find locations as close to the previous locations as possible so voters aren’t put out of their way, as best as we can,” Ardoin, the state’s Republicans elections chief, said in an interview.

Nine parishes have disrupted polling locations because of Ida, which roared ashore Aug. 29 as a Category 4 storm.

A man walks through piles of debris and displaced marsh grass in Ironton, La., Monday, Sept. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

In portions of hard-hit Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes, some voters will cast ballots in large tents that will be ventilated by fans and have security workers on site. In St. John the Baptist Parish, 27 of 28 voting sites will be relocated, with several consolidated into a local gym, because of the widespread destruction to parish buildings and schools that are normally used.

Other parishes with some voting site changes include Assumption, Jefferson, Orleans, St. Charles, St. Helena and Plaquemines.

Meanwhile, all Cameron Parish voters again will make election decisions on voting machines in tents at a combined polling location just like last year, because buildings remain wrecked from 2020′s Hurricane Laura, Ardoin said. Some voting sites in Calcasieu Parish also remain relocated.

People trying to determine where to vote can check the secretary of state’s website at geauxvote.com, log into the state’s GeauxVote mobile app or call 1-800-883-2805.

The only statewide issues on the fall ballot are four constitutional amendments, including a proposal to overhaul Louisiana’s income tax structure. Some parishes will see special elections to fill vacant legislative seats and other local races. New Orleans has a full slate of municipal elections, including the mayor’s race. Early voting begins Oct. 30.

Mud and debris surround damaged homes in Ironton, La., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. (Photo by David Grunfeld/The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate via AP)

To tell people about the voting site changes, elections officials are mailing information to people’s homes, placing signs in high-traffic areas, running radio and digital ads, passing out flyers at local churches and hanging up posters in prominent parish locations.

People displaced by Ida who won’t be in their home parish for the election also can seek to vote absentee by mail.

After the storm struck, the secretary of state toured some of the worst-hit parishes to meet with local elections officials and get a first-hand view of the damage Ida wrought on polling locations.

At a Plaquemines Parish church used as a voting site, Ardoin found a heavily damaged building with a dislodged tomb resting by the front door that he knew would not be suitable for setting up voting machines by November.

“I opened the door and a snake slithered away,” he said. “Let’s just say it was very impactful.”

The statewide election, initially scheduled for Oct. 9, was delayed until Nov. 13 to allow time for power restoration, reconfigured voting locations and other work to pull off an election in a disaster zone. Any runoffs needed will be held Dec. 11.

Ardoin does not believe Ida will worsen voter turnout, which he already expected to be dismal. With 21 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes only having the constitutional amendments on the ballot, the secretary of state is predicting about 13% to 15% of voters statewide will show up at the polls. He expects higher turnout in New Orleans.

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