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?