State Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, has filed a bill to move the date of New Orleans' municipal and parochial elections back to the fall from their current mid-winter dates. The idea has been discussed for years and now is being promoted by the League of Women Voters of New Orleans, which asked Morrell to introduce the measure.
Senate Bill 191 will be heard this Wednesday, April 24, in the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee. The measure came up for consideration last week but was deferred to allow the Secretary of State's office to recommend some amendments.
As introduced, SB 191 would advance the citywide elections from the first Saturday in February to the third Saturday in October, with the general election four weeks later.
Citywide elections were held in the fall through 1977, when the late Dutch Morial won the mayor's race. Morial, who was forced by law to resign his appellate judgeship to run for mayor, complained about the lengthy (six-month) transition period between his election and his inauguration. He convinced the Legislature to push the citywide elections back to February before he had to seek re-election in 1982.
Under the City Charter, the mayor and City Councilmembers take their oaths of office on the first Monday of May. Morrell's bill, as initially drafted, would change that as well — moving it up to the third Monday in January. However, Morrell told Gambit last week that he will remove that provision because it conflicts with the City Charter. "The City Council and voters will have to decide whether to move the inauguration date," Morrell said.
Proponents of such a change say it would limit outgoing mayors' ability to leave incoming administrations in a budget hole.
Ever since New Orleans' election dates were moved to February, campaigns for city offices — including those for parochial offices such as clerk and sheriff — have competed for voters' attention with Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day, Sugar Bowl, NFL playoffs, Super Bowl and Carnival. Voter turnout has declined as well since then.
Morrell's bill would take effect in 2015 and thus would not affect the next round of citywide elections, scheduled for Feb. 1 and March 15, 2014. Next year's runoff already has been pushed back two weeks because otherwise it would fall on March 1 — the Saturday of Mardi Gras weekend next year. — Clancy DuBos