The New Orleans – Iraq Election Metaphor

Bill Quigley, a law prof from Loyola (New Orleans) who stayed in the city during the Katrina nightmare, and continues his activism today, posted one of his passionate analyses of the New Orleans situation over at Alexander Cockburn’s Counterpunch. I don’t want to get into the details of his piece – read it and agree or disagree. But I was intrigued by one point he made about long-distance voting in New Orleans. He wrote:

The state refusal to set up satellite voting for those displaced outside the state resulted in exactly the disenfranchisement predicted. While Iraqis who had not lived in Iraq in years were helped to vote in the US by our government, people forced out of state by Katrina for seven months were not allowed to vote where they are temporarily living.

Of course, whip-smart lawyers will be able to distinguish these two cases on multiple bases. New Orleans residents weren’t forced out by a dictator. It’s a lot easier to go back to New Orleans for a day. And although there was no effort by the relevant authorities to allow remote voting in Houston, and the many other out-of-state homes of these displaced residents, they could have voted absentee. But it struck me that the metaphor remains powerful. Given that we have accepted, as a nation, that displaced people ought to be helped to make sure they have a voice in democracy, shouldn’t the federal government have made a serious effort to promote or authorize remote voting in a place like Houston? Is absentee voting really sufficient access, particularly when the roles of displaced voters were – contrary to normal procedure – not made public? Like Iraqis, the future of those displaced citizens – and their ability to return – will be shaped by the new leaders. Is the task of re-enfranchising these citizens appropriately left to the state, particularly when so many of these folks don’t currently live in Louisiana? Is Iraq the right metaphor?

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3 Responses

  1. Dylan says:

    “Given that we have accepted, as a nation, that displaced people ought to be helped to make sure they have a voice in democracy…”

    We have? I thought we’d decided, as an administration, that a particular group ought to be helped to advance our foreign policy goals.

  2. maybe I don’t understand the question: are you accusing the Democratically-controlled LA state government of deliberately disenfranchising its displaced citizens….or is it once again Bush’s fault?

    With no idea as to what number of previous registered voters no longer consider themselves NOers, we really can’t ascertain how off the vote was. However, it seems that with voting places set up around the state, allowing faxed votes as well as the mailed absentee ballots, the state did a credible job in reaching out to the displaced voters. After all, sometimes being a citizen entails the use of a little initiative.

  3. Simon says:

    Dan:

    Given that we have accepted, as a nation, that displaced people ought to be helped to make sure they have a voice in democracy, shouldn’t the federal government have made a serious effort to promote or authorize remote voting in a place like Houston?

    Question: why the federal government? Surely, how Louisiana conducts its elections is a question for the state of Louisiana and whatever sub-polities exist within it? Quigley admits it: “[t]he state refusal to set up satellite voting…” (emphasis added). Louisiana decided. And the premise (let alone the Constitutional authority) for the federal government to override non-discriminatory judgements by the state government regarding purely internal matters is…What? I mean, surely you’re not seriously going to argue (although given his choice of forum, Quigley perhaps might) that the Louisiana government, controlled by Democrats, is engaged in a vast and implausible conspiracy to disenfranchise the very black voters that keep the Democratic party in power in Louisiana?

    It seems to me that even if your premise is sond, you’re asking the wrong government: if it is a sound principle that displaced people ought to be helped to make sure they have a voice in democracy, shouldn’t Louisiana‘s government have made a serious effort to promote or authorize remote voting in a place like Houston?

    I can’t help but agree with Maryland Conservatarian’s sentiment. It makes no sense to blame the federal authorities for failure to to something they not only should not do but in fact have no authority or reason to do, unless the real goal is to find fault at the Federal level. Louisiana’s government, which is actually responsible for making this call, is run by Democrats; the federal government, which has nothing to do with it, is run by Republicans; which box did Quigley tick in November ’04?