While the council may have previously reapportioned by ordinance (per state law) when the voters in a precinct exceed 2,200, or fall below 300. Neither of those things have happened here, therefore this does not fit the definition of reapportionment.
We delved into that very question weeks ago. We reviewed every single time the council reapportioned and found that each time was NOT triggered by the council. Once every ten years, a census came along requiring reapportionment. However, most of the reapportionments happened when the registrar of voters reported that population changes caused a voting precinct to become out of compliance with state law.
Section VII B 1 of the Secretary of State’s voting precinct and voting handbook says, “A precinct shall contain no more than 2,200 registered voters (active only) and no less than 300 registered voters (active only).” The vast majority of the various ordinances listed at the bottom of Seventeen Times This Has NEVER Happened Before contain the same “no more than” and / or “no less than” language as the justification for the change, citing state law as the authorization. While the public officials expect you to take their word for it, we actually provided every single ordinance at the bottom of the story so you can click the ordinance numbers and read them all for yourself.
The Attorney General Opinion Request
Earlier this week, the state Attorney General issued an opinion that virtually matches what we’ve been telling you for months. The opinion request from Senator Hensgens included two questions.You can read both of Senator Hensgens’ questions for yourself here. They can be tough to digest, but, plainly stated, the questions were:
- May the council amend the charter by ordinance?
- In order to fix the precincts in the charter, is it necessary to amend the charter?
The answer to the first question is “No,” and that’s not under dispute. However, the second question was not considered by the council on Tuesday night. Councilman, Liz Webb-Hebert, asked the city-parish attorney a question very close to that second question above. She asked, “We can – like you’ve stated before – fix errors in precincts and change precincts by ordinance, correct?”
The attorney didn’t answer the question.
The city-parish attorney said the charter allows for the reapportionment process to be utilized in adjusting election districts by ordinance. However, Councilman Hebert did not ask that question. She wanted to know if the council may “fix errors in precincts by ordinance.” Mr. Escott went on to say that there were existing AG opinions on the subject. Ms. Hebert emphasizes the point by asking again, “he’s already given an opinion on that? On exactly what we’re doing tonight?” Again, instead of answering, Mr. Escott continues his thought, “but he doesn’t refer to [those previous opinions on reapportionment] in this opinion.”
For the third time Ms. Hebert restates the question, we can not amend the charter by ordinance, but we can fix precincts by ordinance? Mr. Escott again doesn’t answer the question. Instead, he discusses the two questions that were asked by Senator Hensgens. He reviews again the first question, which isn’t at issue. However… Mr. Escott continues, “but he does ask a second question about district changes or whatever, but again, I haven’t had a chance to look at all this in detail.”
The second question, “In order to fix the precincts in the charter, is it necessary to amend the charter?” was never answered.
Take our word for it?
We’d never ask you to do that.
How did the AG answer that second question?
If you’re wondering what the answer to that second question was, it can be found in the last sentence of the second page of the opinion.
“Accordingly, any changes in district boundaries for purposes of the first election of council members under the amended Charter may be made only by further amendment to the Charter. Such changes cannot be made by ordinance of the governing body.”
### red links in this document will take you to original source material, or an order story we’re referencing.
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