Louisiana Likely to Delay Saturday Primary Elections

Posted September 1, 2008 at 6:14pm

Although Louisiana election officials said Monday that they aren’t optimistic about being able to hold the state’s primaries on Saturday as scheduled, no official decision is expected until after Hurricane Gustav moves out of Louisiana later this week.

Even though the storm made landfall with less intensity than originally expected on Monday, it still had the potential to wreak widespread damage across Louisiana. And even if the storm dissipates quickly, the mass evacuations that took place in coastal areas would make it tough to hold an election by Saturday in several districts.

“Sept. 6 does not look likely,” said Jacques Berry, spokesman for Louisiana Secretary of State Jay Dardenne (R). Berry said that as of Monday afternoon, Dardenne had not made any official recommendation about postponing the election to Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), who has the power to make that decision.

“If something happens with not getting voters back or more tropical weather issues, we’ll have to address that,” Berry said. However, “right now we’re staying out of the way because life and property comes first. … Right now our concern is the voters.”

Several options exist for postponement, including delaying those primaries that won’t require runoffs to the already scheduled Oct. 4 runoff date. Those races that may require a runoff could hold their first round of balloting on Sept. 13 and still legally keep Oct. 4 as the runoff.

“We have contingency plans,” Berry said. “Our elections staff has had experience with a lot of weather-related issues.”

In the meantime, Berry said, the secretary of state’s staff was well-prepared for Gustav.

“We did all our prep work,” he said. “We evacuated the machines we had to evacuate, we moved the ones we knew we had to. Same with our records” at various state registrar and other voter information offices.

Of Louisiana’s seven Congressional districts, four have primaries this cycle, with the most high-profile being the Democratic race in the New Orleans-based 2nd district and the Republican contest in the Baton Rouge-based 4th district.

In the 2nd district, a half-dozen Democrats are hoping to knock off Rep. William Jefferson (D), who was indicted on 16 corruption counts in early June and has been the subject of a federal corruption probe since 2005. Several strong Democrats entered the race this year, including state Rep. Cedric Richmond, Jefferson Parish Councilman Byron Lee and Kenya Smith, a former aide to New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. The top two vote-getters are almost certain to head to a runoff.

In the 4th district seat of retiring Rep. Jim McCrery (R), three Republicans are seeking the nomination. Despite national GOP officials throwing their support behind Bossier Chamber of Commerce President Jeff Thompson, both trucking executive Chris Gorman and physician John Fleming continue to raise substantial amounts of money and have stayed competitive in polling. The race could well require a runoff.

On the Democratic side in the 4th district, state and national party officials are firmly behind Caddo Parish District Attorney Paul Carmouche and he is expected to emerge from his four-way primary, perhaps without a runoff.

Several campaigns across Louisiana, including all the Republican candidates in the 4th district race, have released statements announcing that they are suspending their campaigns as they focus on relief efforts for those affected and displaced by the hurricane.

Fleming, a former medical officer in the U.S. Navy, “will focus his time and efforts to volunteer to provide health care to the displaced victims of Hurricane Gustav,” according to a statement issued by his campaign. “Dr. Fleming has also directed his company, Fleming Subway Restaurants, Inc. to provide free sandwiches and cookies to various shelters over the coming days.”