Any time now, City/Parish Attorney, Paul Escott, will issue an opinion on whether or not a simple ordnance can amend the home rule charter to fix the precinct errors. Those errors are now codified into a new home rule charter, approved by voters on December 8th. Words mean things and are important. The reason I call it a new home rule charter is because the ordinance that started the process to put changes on the ballot does not contain a single amendment. Instead, it attaches a complete charter as a replacement for the previous one. But that’s a subject for another day.
The issue that’s captured the attention of Lafayette residents since the fixers admitted the errors (conveniently the day after the 60-day election challenge period had ended) is how to fix them. If the new charter is indeed unconstitutional due to the precinct errors it contains, is the council permitted to amend it into constitutional compliance independent of voter input? While it’s certainly the most expedient method, is it legal? The fixers say “the council districts and precincts have been modified by ordinance at least 17 times since 1996,” but those are just nice words that sounds like they could be true. Are they?
What do the documents say?
I ask that question because virtually every media outlet in Lafayette has put out headlines like, “No re-vote necessary,” “Ordinance can fix flawed charter amendment,” or “Correction in Lafayette charter amendment can be fixed via ordinance.” However, these headlines are nothing more than quotes of wishful thinkers. Outside of Hollywood, it’s not possible to reshape reality simply by uttering lines in front of a camera.
Pay attention to the “since 1996” word choice because, as we’ve previously discussed, the first time this happened was in 1994. That was after the new home rule charter was approved, but before it took effect. The council submitted their recommended precinct changes to the voters for approval. That change modified the home rule charter and had nothing to do with a census or other population changes. This is virtually the exact same scenario we’re faced with today.
As a matter of fact, the question of modifying precincts without a vote of the people has come up before. Way back on May 27, 1993, Councilman Linwood Broussard asked legal council, Steve Dupuis, “since the newly-developed precinct lines were not part of the package voted on by the electorate, will this have to go back to the voters?” The answer was a very long yes.
Before we jump into the fixer’s list of “at least seventeen times” an ordinance changed voting precincts “since 1996,” be aware that there are three other times it happened; four if you count the recent, erroneous precinct changes included in the new charter. The fixers didn’t know to count those because they aren’t obvious — they aren’t spelled out on the last two pages of the current home rule charter. Discovering them requires research. Specifically, it requires someone to read through three and a half years of council meeting minutes and ordnances. Did the fixers read through all that? No. Public officials? No. The press? No. It’s something that only Citizens for a New Louisiana does.
The short version is every single time a precinct line was moved by ordinance but without a vote of the people, it was done because of a population change. Every single time. Instead of telling you something that sounds like it could be true, and conveniently leaving out the backup documentation, we’ve included every single original ordinance so you can read it for yourself. Each and every single time.
The twenty-one times ordinances changed precincts
- Ordinance O-082-96 was approved by the council on August 20, 1996. Due to population changes and because state law mandates that each precinct shall contain no more than 2,200 electors, precinct 85 was split into 85A and 85B.
- Ordinance O-083-96 was also approved on August 20th, 1996. Due to population changes and because state law mandates that each precinct shall contain no fewer than 300 electors, numerous precinct mergers were completed.
- Ordinance O-161-98 on June 16th, 1998. The split of precinct 94 into 94A & 94B was due to population changes.
- Ordinance O-163-98, on the same date, due to population changes, divided precinct 93 and combined the severed portion with precinct 96. Again, because state law forbids a precinct from containing more than 2,200 electors.
- Ordinance O-164-98, same date. Due to population changes, precinct 91 was dangerously close to the state-mandated minimum of 300 electors allowed in a precinct, and was therefore combined with precinct 92.
- Ordinance O-247-98 on September 1st, 1998, established precinct boundaries in anticipation of the 2000 Census, in compliance with state law: Louisiana Act 1420 from the 1997 regular session.
- Ordinance O-034-2002 on February 26th, 2002, reapportioned all districts due to population changes recorded in the 2000 US Census.
- Ordinance O-106-2003 on May 20th, 2003, adjusted ten precincts by splitting them due to population changes, or changing polling locations. No boundaries were changed, except as required to subdivide existing precincts.
- Ordinance O-218-2004 on October 5th, 2004, citing state law’s 300 minimum and 2,200 maximum precinct sizes, the ordinance combined two precincts into one, and splitting two others due to population changes.
- Ordinance O-040-2006 on March 7th, 2006, combining precincts 64B and 19 due to population changes.
- Ordinance O-059-2008 on March 19, 2008, Precincts 107 & 108 split to 107, 108 & 111 due to population changes.
- Ordinance O-060-2008, on the same date, splits precinct 101 into 101 & 110 due to population changes.
- Ordinance O-095-2011 on April 25, 2011, splits precinct 64 into 64A and 64B due to population changes.
- Ordinance O-096-2011 on the same date, reapportioned all districts due to population changes recorded in the 2010 US Census.
- Ordinance O-139-2014 on August 5th, 2014, renames some precincts for administrative clarity, moves some polling places, but when addressing boundary changes, it’s due to population changes.
- Ordinance O-027-2015 on February 3rd, 2015, renamed two precincts: 64A to 64, and 64B to 112. It also changed several polling locations. It made no adjustments to precinct boundaries.
- Ordinance O-163-2015 on August 4th, 2015, numerous precincts were split due to population changes.***Those are all of the changes listed on the last two pages of the current home rule charter. However, since it was printed, I identified three more ordinances that also adjusted precincts. Lets have a look.
- Ordinance O-106-2016 on June 21st, 2016, due to population changes finding precinct 64 without the minimum of 300 electors, is consolidated with 112.
- Ordinance O-121-2018 on August 7th, 2018, redrew all districts and precincts. This ordinance was submitted to voters.
- Ordinance O-141-2018 on August 21st, 2018, it seems someone must have forgotten about O-106-2016, consolidating precinct 64 with 112, as this ordinance does it again. It also identifies that, due to population changes, precinct 50 is short of the 300 minimum number of electors required, and therefore is merged with precinct 51.
- Finally, Ordinance O-210-2018 on December 4th, 2018, due to population changes, numerous districts have exceeded the state-mandated maximum of 2,200 electors, and are therefore split up.
As a reminder, this information is only available from Citizens for a New Louisiana.
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