Everywhere else in America, it's just January, with all that winter brings. In New Orleans, however, it's Carnival season, playoffs season and the political season all rolled into one. As Mardi Gras and the Super Bowl approach, many New Orleanians are making plans to leave town. That's understandable, but voting in the Feb. 6 citywide primary is more than just the culmination of the political season; it's the fulfillment of our duty as citizens. It outranks even a Super Bowl appearance by our beloved Saints. This year's citywide elections will give us a new mayor, a largely new City Council, our first citywide assessor, our first combined civil and criminal sheriff and a number of other important elected officials. No Mardi Gras and no Super Bowl — not even one featuring the Saints — should overshadow citizens' duty to vote.
Don't misunderstand us. We don't want anyone to cancel a flight to Miami or anywhere else. There's a simple solution for anyone who plans to leave town next weekend: Vote early.
The Louisiana Secretary of State Web site loudly proclaims: "YOU DO NOT NEED A REASON TO VOTE EARLY! All voters may vote early, just like they are voting on Election Day." There are no special forms to fill out. A registered voter need only show up at designated times and locations with photo identification — driver's license, Louisiana special ID or another generally recognized picture ID with your name and signature. Those without a photo ID can sign an affidavit and vote.
Early voting started last Saturday (Jan. 23) and will continue through this Saturday (Jan. 30). Three early voting locations are open from 8:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. The polling sites are:
• Registrar of Voters Office, City Hall, 1300 Perdido St., Room 1W23, 658-8300
• Registrar of Voters Branch Office, Algiers Courthouse, 225 Morgan St., Room 105, 658-0382 or 658-0195
• Voting Machine Warehouse, 8870 Chef Menteur Hwy., 942-8313.
According to the staff at the Registrar of Voters Office, it's impossible to predict what will be the busiest days and times for early voting, but they expect a daily range of 800 to 1,200 people to vote at the City Hall location, especially considering the importance of this election. Monchel Melrose, a spokesperson in the registrar's office, suggests people have their IDs ready to give to registrars to speed things up. Melrose says the Voting Machine Warehouse was added as a location for early voting this year to make the operation faster and more available. She adds that her office is very aware of potential Carnival and Super Bowl travel conflicts. "That's why we're encouraging that if you know you're going to be out of town, go and early vote," Melrose says.
Citizens also can cast absentee ballots by mail, but this right is reserved for people who won't be in New Orleans during the early voting period or on election day, or who, for a variety of reasons (including being elderly or housebound) cannot make it to a polling site. To find out if you qualify for this exception and to get a mail ballot, visit the secretary of state's Web site, www.sos.louisiana.gov. Click on "Elections" (left-hand side of the home screen), and a pull-down menu will appear. Click on "Forms/Brochures/Handbooks," and on the next screen under the title, click on the link for "Request for Absentee Ballot by Mail."
Andrea Szucs, a registration specialist and office coordinator in the registrar's office, says absentee ballot requests can be mailed or hand delivered, but must be received in the office by Feb. 2. After confirming the applicant is a registered voter, which takes a day or two, a ballot will be mailed to the qualified voter. Completed ballots must be mailed back and must be returned to the registrar's office no later than Feb. 5. If you are voting absentee, it's a good idea to use registered mail or, if time is running out, overnight mail.
Szucs says every ballot received on time — early, absentee or on the day of the election — will be counted. "We make every effort," Szucs says. "In some of these elections, a couple of votes could make a difference." We couldn't agree more.