Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Louisiana: Signatures handed in for New Orleans Mayoral Recall effort

Petitioners have handed in signatures seeking the recall of New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, over complaints about a failure to put New Orleans first as well as recent revelations over her travel expenses, including a $17,000 flight to Paris.

In what may be an ominous sign for petitioners, they haven't released the number of signatures handed in. There may be another reason -- not giving Cantrell a number to try to hit to trigger the signature strike law that I discuss way below.

They need to 49,975.2 (20% of registered voters) to get on the ballot, though early reporting mistakenly listed 53,353 valid signatures  (an updated list dropped 17,000 voters from the rolls). The recall petitioners are actually trying to beat down that total, claiming that 30,000 additional voters should be dropped (which would cut the signature requirement by 6000). So will this be enough and what about Louisiana's odd signature gathering overtime law?

Let's go back a little and give you some details on Louisiana and the recall:

Louisiana has not been a big recall state, primarily because the law used to be so imposing, requiring signatures from 33 1/3rd registered voters to get on the ballot. This was arguably the highest requirement in the country (though the state gives a generous 180 days to gather those signatures). The law was changed to lower the total to 20% of registered voters -- still higher than many places with their 25% of voter turnout, but significantly more doable. 

That said, Louisiana has had at least 8 officials face a recall since 2011, with 5 being removed and 3 surviving the vote. The last three have survived the vote. Additionally, 5 officials have resigned in the face of recall threats. Here's the full lists of recalls (but not resignations) in Louisiana history and some recent history in this article. No other state has that, so thank you very much, Secretary of State's office.

We're not going into each of these recalls, but I want to look at four specific attempts to get a handle on the state's signature validation rate. 

The most recent recall election took place against Franklinton Alderman Heath Spears in 2022 (Spears survived the vote). Petitioners handed in 921 signatures, and 737 were validated (an 80% validation rate). 

The recall attempt against Mansfield Mayor Curtis McCoy in 2016 failed with 1045 signatures handed in an 799 validated (76.5% validation rate) -- (another official faced a recall vote, but I'm not sure how many were actually handed in).

St. Martinville Councilman Dennis Paul Williams in 2018 saw 428 signatures handed in, with 337 approved (a 79% validation rate). This did not get to the ballot. 

Port Allen Mayor Demetric "Deedy" Slaughter was kicked out in a recall in 2013. Petitioners handed in 1521 signatures and got 1387 valids (needed 1273), for a 91% validation rate. 

In these posts, I examine recalls in California and elsewhere throughout the country. The two most prominent recalls, California Governors Gray Davis and Gavin Newsom, saw 18-19% signature failure rate. While there have been recalls with much higher rates (Arizona State Senate saw a 42% failure rate) and much less (Colorado's State Senate recall had a 6%, though using rules unavailable elsewhere), we see that a cushion of 20%+ is generally needed to give a good chance of success. In this case, under the close to 50K needed, that would be 60,000 signatures. 

Sabrina Wilson at WVUE-TV pointed out that the state has a very unusual law, where it allows people to sign or remove their names from the petitions for five days or prior to certification (whichever is earlier). Many states have a strike law -- in fact, a Newport Beach, CA Council member used just such a law in 2017 to get a recall off the ballot. Some states have a cure law -- where petitioners have time to correct mistakes in the signing process. But I'm not sure if other states give additional time to collect signatures after the tape is crossed (I see that New Mexico may allow it, but I'm not sure). We'll see if that matters. 

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