BREAUX BRIDGE: Election Integrity and Voter Suppression

   
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Citizens for a New Louisiana was founded on the basic concept that if the average citizen knew the terrible things that went on in government, then our officials would stop doing them. Everything we strive for is based on the strong belief that government performs better when it is under the publics watchful eye. Only through transparent operations and exchange of information we can better evaluate and hold public officials accountable.

All too often we tend to focus on national and (rarely) state political issues while overlooking what is transpiring right under our noses at the local level. However, neglecting the local public bodies which can be more easily influenced and that ultimately have more control and influence over our day to day lives is the root of our problems. If you truly want a New Louisiana, our focus must start locally! And Breaux Bridge is just as good a place as any.

The issues of our day

The times are often defined by the issues that arise and plague our system of government. With the recent Dobbs decision many on the right have shifted their focus to other issues. But Dobbs is not the end of the abortion issue, rather a small victory in what may very well be a never-ending battle. Those who have laid their swords down and declared victory are strongly cautioned about the influence that has shifted from aborting babies to destroying our children.

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The increasing scope and size of government has been and will likely remain the biggest issue our day. After all, if the government didn’t exert so much influence into our everyday lives, if they didn’t have the power to control us from nursery to mortuary, would any of the “big issues” be considered issues at all? While many “conservative” legislatures tend to think that the growth of government a small percentage point each year in relation to the economy is a good thing – is any growth in government good? Should a government be expanded which already wields power like wrecking ball upon the everyday lives of its citizens?

Another such “issue” which has firmly taken hold on the Right is election integrity. Here at Citizens for a New Louisiana we have covered the topic of election integrity in great detail. We firmly believe there is always room for improvement. There are changes which can be made to our election systems which would further guard against potential susceptibility. However, we also are fully aware that the election system in Louisiana does not contain any of the problems witnessed in other states. Even Dr. Alex Halderman warned that a large-scale shift to this topic by conservatives could have significant negative effect on the conservative movement. Still, we shouldn’t lose sight of any issues that exist. Many of which are local issues. Issues with our local register of voters’ offices are real as are issues with how seemingly insignificant local elections are held.

Breaux Bridge Municipal Police Civil Service Board

If you are familiar with our work concerning Civil Service Boards in Lafayette and Youngsville, then the City of Breaux Bridge shouldn’t be hard to follow. It is however worth reminding everyone why we have a Civil Service system in Louisiana to begin with. It all started because powerful politicians and political machines were able to control police and use them to do their bidding, which included intimidating voters at the polls. This type of behavior continued well into the twentieth century in 1934 when supporters of former Governor Huey P. Long set out to “reform” the system. His system vested all of the power to approve appointments, conduct investigations, evaluate and remove local police and fire chiefs in a state commission, not locally. In one instance the police chief for the City of Alexandria was terminated by the state commission because he refused to allow Long bodyguards to pursue a person who had thrown eggs and vegetables at Senator Long at a visit months earlier. The Long system would be revised by 1940. Then by 1952 the Civil Service System would be enshrined in our constitution where it remains today.

The Breaux Bridge Municipal Police Civil Service Board is governed by the provisions of Louisiana Revised Statutes 33:2532, et seq., which pertain to “small municipalities.” The board consists of three members. One of the board is a member the Police Department who is nominated and duly elected by members of the Department’s classified (civil) service.

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Election integrity issues in Breaux Bridge

We previously covered an eerily similar case of election rigging in the City of Youngsville. That’s when Chief Rickey Boudreaux declared a winner when no one candidate had received the majority of votes necessary. The situation we are witnessing in the City of Breaux Bridge is slightly different.

According to responses received to a series of public records requests on or about July 11, 2023, Chief Albert “Buzd” LeBlanc caused to be posted a notice of soliciting nominations through July 20, 2023, from within the Breaux Bridge Police Department for a representative to fill the Board member term which is set to expire September 14, 2023. Then on or about July 24, 2023, a notice to hold an election was advertised to occur between August 8, 2023, and ending at 3:00/PM on August 11, 2023. Three candidates appear on the notice as being nominated to fill the seat. The election procedure is clearly outlined in Louisiana Revised Statute 33:2536(C)(3)(b)(iii) which reads:

(iii) If more than one name is placed in nomination, the chief shall call an election within forty-five days after this Section takes effect in the area affected by posting, for a fifteen-day continuous period immediately preceding the election, a notice thereof on the bulletin board of each station house of his department. The chief shall officially notify the governing body of the area affected within the ten-day period immediately following the election, the name of the employee-nominee so elected by the regular employees of his department. The chief of the department shall vote in the election only in the case of a tie vote.

Simple, right? But then something strange happened. On the day the election ended, August 11, 2023, Chief Albert “Buzd” LeBlanc caused to be posted a notice to hold another election.

What happened?

According to the lawyer who responded to the public records requests on behalf of Chief Albert “Buzd” LeBlanc, the election was “invalidated.” While the law mandates the Chief call for nominees and an election, nowhere does it allow for the Chief or the circumstances by which an election can be invalidated. In the absence of any statutory authority in the Civil Service law for such an action we turn to the Louisiana election code.

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Louisiana Revised Statute 18:1 states:

“The Louisiana Election Code shall regulate the conduct of elections and political subdivisions shall be prohibited from adopting any law, resolution, or ordinance relative to elections and the conduct thereof, including campaign finance, except as otherwise specifically authorized in this code.”

The pre-text provided by Chief LeBlanc for “invalidating” the election is the resignation of Officer John Leger, who was one of the nominees in the election. However, the Louisiana election code makes the procedure clear as to what is to occur when a person withdraws or is disqualified in the middle of election (LARS 18:501 – 503). In all instances it calls for election staff to “cause notice to be posted of the withdrawal of such candidate at any polling place where the candidate’s name appears on the ballot.” There is absolutely no provision for cancelling or invalidating an election because someone withdraws or is disqualified mid-election. But that is not even the case here, because Leger was neither disqualified nor withdrew.

According to the notice of Chief LeBlanc, Leger “has been removed due to receipt of a resignation letter.” But at the time of the close of the election on August 11, 2023, Leger was still an employee of the City of Breaux Bridge, even if he intended to resign. His resignation letter had not yet become effective, it had not been presented to the governing authority for acceptance, nor had it been ratified by the Civil Service Board who is vested with the power to both approve or deny personnel actions. By “invalidating” the election, LeBlanc essentially engaged in voter suppression, invalidating the vote of Leger and every other classified employee who had cast a ballot in the election. What is very interesting about the vote of Leger is that, by definition, he remains a “regular and permanent employee” of the classified service until such time as his personnel action is ratified by the Board. Leger remains eligible to vote in the election from which his name has been stricken from the ballot. Lastly, if Chief LeBlanc truly believed that the election needed to begin anew and he has the power to call for a new election, why wasn’t it started all over again? There was no opportunity provided for additional nominees to be accepted. LeBlanc just “invalidated’ an election the day it ended. But voter suppression is not something new for LeBlanc.

LeBlanc also engaged in voter suppression at the St. Martin RPEC

The City of Youngsville was slow to wake-up to all that Chief Boudreaux had meth’d up and its image has been severely tarnished. Which is why, back in October of last year, we warned the voters about the dangers posed by a man of such character as Buz’d LeBlanc. At that time, he was suppressing the votes of elected members of the St. Martin Parish Republican Executive Committee.

On October 6, 2022 at a meeting of the St. Martin RPEC a motion was made remove a sitting elected member of RPEC, Grant Gil. One person declared that Gil no longer lived and/or was registered to vote in the district he served. Gil was medically unable to attend the meeting to defend himself, but had proxied his vote to another sitting member. Additionally, Gil was not provided with any notice of the alleged reasons for disqualification or adequate due process to rebut them. The political machine was already at work at disenfranchising voters to achieve the objectives of LeBlanc. LeBlanc unilaterally disqualified Gil from voting, creating a tie that allowed LeBlanc himself to cast the tie-breaking vote as Chairman. As of this writing, no disqualification vote has occurred to remove Gil as a sitting member of the RPEC. That’s likely because removal requires a two-thirds (2/3) supermajority of members to agree – and LeBlanc didn’t have the votes.

If anyone thought LeBlanc’s antics would stop with the RPEC, they were sadly mistaken. LeBlanc is in an even better position now to hide behind the color of law and deny more citizens of their constitutionally guaranteed rights, privileges and immunities. If those terms are familiar to you it may be because you have read them before. They are found in 42 U.S.C. 1983, more commonly known as the “Ku Klux Klan Act.” A federal law written to prevent state actors from denying freedmen the right to vote.

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