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New Orleans City Elections Postponed

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New Orleans City Elections Postponed

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New Orleans City Elections Postponed

New Orleans City Elections Postponed

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Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco officially postpones Februrary elections for mayor and city council in New Orleans. Conducting an election amid the wreckage of Katrina was seen as impractical.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Coming up, an early scorecard on Pope Benedict.

But first, the latest casualty of Hurricane Katrina are the local elections in the city of New Orleans, which were scheduled for February 4th. But yesterday Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco postponed the vote for up to eight months. We're joined now from New Orleans by NPR's Anthony Brooks.

Anthony, thanks very much for being with us.

ANTHONY BROOKS reporting:

Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And Governor Blanco said she accepted the recommendation of the Louisiana secretary of State. You spoke with the gentleman, Al Ater, yesterday. How did he explain this?

BROOKS: Well, this is what Ater had to say. He said the postponement is necessary because of what he called `the widespread damage caused by Katrina in this city'--It's that simple--and the dislocation of, perhaps, 200,000 voters who are scattered around the country. And all of this represents a huge logistical problem when it comes to running an election. Scott, this city, as you no doubt know, remains devastated. Most of the 400 or so voting places were wiped out or seriously damaged. Election workers are gone. And the challenge of contacting most of the city's registered voters, perhaps as many as 200,000 who are scattered around the country, is enormous. So Ater said he was reluctant to do this but that he had no choice but to postpone the elections and reschedule them for sometime in the future, no later than September 30th, he said.

SIMON: September 30th, obviously, of 2006.

BROOKS: Correct.

SIMON: Who would they be voting for?

BROOKS: Well, these elections are for city council, for sheriff and perhaps the most high-profile race, for mayor. As we know, the incumbent is, of course, Ray Nagin, who's been both criticized and praised for the way he's responded to the hurricane disaster. He hasn't officially announced if he's running, but he says that he wants to. But, you know, in terms of what's at stake, Secretary of State Ater put it this way. He said this is perhaps the most important election in the city's life because at stake are decisions about how to rebuild this city, whether to rebuild parts of this city, not to mention the disposition of billions of dollars that will be spent to rebuild. So it's a very important election, and they want to get it right.

SIMON: I--and with so much of the population base out of the city, it would be difficult to campaign in a way that would reach people and allow them to participate in the campaign.

BROOKS: And, you know, the biggest challenge is how to reach them. I mean, this is an absentee voting system that this city has never had to deal with. I mean, it--and they have to essentially set up...

SIMON: All jokes about political corruption aside and ghost voters and everything, this is an unparalleled absentee effort for an American city, wouldn't it be?

BROOKS: Absolutely.

SIMON: Well, let me ask you finally, Tony, does the decision to postpone the election seem popular among New Orleanians with whom you've spoken?

BROOKS: You know, I've heard differing opinions. Some people are worried about what they see as the open-ended nature of this. That is, there is no plan for an election in place yet. But frankly, I get the impression that most people are dealing with very basic issues of survival here, figuring out how to rebuild their home, if they can rebuild their home. The problem of an election seems a little remote right now.

SIMON: Anthony Brooks in New Orleans, thank you.

BROOKS: Thank you.

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