Saturday, March 18, 2006

Calling All Bloggers for NOLA

Thousands of voters in the upcoming New Orleans municipal elections face disenfranchisement. Big money interests and Republican challenger candidates stand to gain, and Democratic incumbents, African Americans, and low income voters stand to lose. Individual candidates face huge logistic challenges in reaching out to New Orleans voters who are scattered all over the country.

In other words, there is a critical shortage of infrastructure, information, and human resources.

And that's where progressive bloggers come in.

More on the backstory and how you can help after the jump.

The Situation: This week (March 16), the Justice Department approved arrangements for the New Orleans municipal elections. The Louisiana Secretary of State will provide 10 satellite polling stations throughout Louisiana, but not outside the state.  Meanwhile, over half the city's 300,000 registered voters are still displaced around the country. 

To put the situation of those 150,000 people in perspective, last month FEMA evicted evacuees from temporary hotel accommodations and made them homeless all over again. Many evacuees are also struggling with bankruptcy.

National civil rights groups are concerned that displaced persons may not know how the absentee ballot process works, or will be unable to receive ballots because of moving between temporary housing arrangements. Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr has pointed out that reliance on absentee ballots amounts to an illegal literacy test for displaced voters.

FEMA ("Republican owned and operated!" TM) has released a list of voters' contact information to the Louisiana Secretary of State, but refuses to make the list available to candidates.

The 100+ candidates in the April elections face the logistic challenge of conducting a national campaign on a presidential scale, with the budget of a city council race--without knowing who their voters are, where they are, or how to contact them.  And as incumbent city council member Cynthia Hedge-Morrell pointed out in an NPR interview today, incumbent elected officials can not do their jobs locally (i.e., keep an eye on all the agendas in the reconstruction efforts) and campaign nationally at the same time.

Who wins? Who loses?--The usual suspects. The voters most likely to be disenfranchised by the election arrangements are primarily low-income African Americans--who, coincidentally are statistically likely to vote Democrat.  The voters most likely to have returned to New Orleans already are more affluent residents--who are statistically more likely to vote Republican.  The candidates most disadvantaged by campaign and voting logistics are incumbents (mostly Democrats; for example, 14 out of 16 incumbents are Democrats in Orleans Parish) and small-money campaigns (read Democrats); the candidates that stand to gain are challengers and big-money campaigns (read Republicans).

What can Bloggers do? New Orleans Democratic candidates need a national grassroots team to help identify displaced voters.  Bloggers can publicize voter education efforts about the absentee ballot process on our blogs. Bloggers can also volunteer and/or use our blogs to recruit volunteers for on-the-ground, grassroots-outreach programs to identify and support displaced voters.

You can certainly fundraiser for the candidates of your choice on your blogs, too, but I need to point out that this isn't a problem that money will solve.  What we really need are grassroots volunteers on the ground.

I believe it is critically important to the future of New Orleans that the people who have been displaced by the hurricane get to cast their votes, have their votes counted, and have a say in the governing and rebuilding of their city.  So, I'm putting my money where my mouth is. I work in campaign politics (my "day job") and I am offering my services, free of charge, to any progressive Democratic candidates in New Orleans who want to use netroots outreach to contact their constituents across the country.  My homework this weekend is tracking down contact information for all of the Democratic candidates and contacting them directly.

If you are a blogger and you would like to get involved and make a difference in making sure displaced voters are not disenfranchised, please leave me a message here in the comments (I really appreciate if you use comments instead of email).   I'll also keep you posted on the project here.  And if you know a progressive Democratic candidate in New Orleans who might be interested, please put them in touch with me at nolanetroots AT gmail DOT com!

P.S.  This is about helping the voters:  it's not about me, and it's not about reinventing the wheel.  So, if you are already involved in this effort, or if you are aware of election integrity groups or advocacy groups that are working to make sure displaced New Orleans residents can vote, please leave me a comment.  I'll be thrilled to make your aquaintance and excited to work with you.

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