Rev. Jackson on Protests over New Orleans Vote

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The Rev. Jesse Jackson discusses plans by civil rights leaders to protest New Orleans's upcoming citywide election. The group says balloting should be pushed back because too many former residents scattered by Hurricane Katrina will be unable to vote.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

And now the Reverend Jessie Jackson joins us from Washington D.C. Reverend Jackson, thanks you so much for coming on.

Rev. JESSIE JACKSON (Political Activist): Very well.

CHIDEYA: So you heard the Louisiana Secretary of State Al Ater. Did you ever ask him for a meeting?

Rev. JACKSON: As of matter fact, Senator Cleo Fields and I asked to meet with him. Senator Fields, who is a Senator from Louisiana, was not a part of the unanimous agreement on this plan. As a matter of fact, he has sued the Secretary of State. Number one, the voting rolls--at first FEMA would not release the voting rolls to the Secretary of State.

But as of December 22 they did that. The Secretary of State then compared the two rolls, which made it public. He refuses to make available the voting rolls that are eligible persons to the candidates. So the candidates do not know who is eligible. The eligible do not know who's running. That's fundamental. The candidates who are running do not have the voting rolls that he has. So he is running a public campaign with private rolls.

Secondly, as opposed to all the focus on absentee mail-in, the people in transit, secretaries of state of other states are willing to let elections be run from their states by satellite. If Iraqi Americans could vote by satellite from America to Baghdad, indeed Mexican Americans, indeed Polish Americans, why can't New Orleanians Americans vote from where they are in exile. And so if he were to make that list of the eligible available and support strongly satellite voting, it would make this a much easier process.

CHIDEYA: Well, Secretary Ater mentioned that the U.S. Justice Department, the state and federal courts, have all ruled the election will occur on April 22nd. At this stage wouldn't it be more productive to figure out ways of getting voters to the polls instead of protesting the date of the vote?

Rev. JACKSON: Ordinarily, you must know how difficult it is to get people down the street to the firehouse or the school or the Y or the church to vote. To think of two-thirds of the citizens outside of New Orleans coming in great numbers by transportation or even mailing is an awesome process. It's an onerous process.

This Department of Justice has lowered the standard of the voting rights act section two, dilution, which requires pre-clearance. Section five, dealing with precinct removal. In New Orleans there are more the 21 precincts, 300 were destroyed, so much so--and when he made his ruling, Mr. Gonzales made his ruling, last week and post-cleared, not pre-cleared, the election date, the city council moved another 100 precincts the day afterwards.

It's illegal to move precincts after a date has been set. It is against state law. It's also against federal law. It is difficult if you are living in exile, then you receive from the secretary of state a notice, but not a ballot. You write for the ballot. You receive the ballot. When you receive the ballot, you must have two witnesses or a notarized affidavit. You then send it to Baton Rouge because the postal system in New Orleans is running seven, eight days late because of the disfunctionality of that system there.

The way you cut through all of this kind of process is, have satellites around the country where other secretaries of state cooperate, and secondly and most critical, is make available to elected officials--I mean the candidates--the eligible voters. How can you campaign? Can you send mail? Can you call? Can you visit people that you know that they're eligible to vote?

CHIDEYA: Well, Reverend Jackson, tell us what you're going to be doing in New Orleans on April 1st. You raised a couple of different issues. One is the date of the election. The other one is the satellite polling places.

Rev. JACKSON: And our issue is not the date, not the candidates, it is the standards of the voting rights act that must not be compromised. So on April the 1st, the Congressional Black Caucus, and NAA, and Urban League, and SLC, and National Action Network, bonders(ph) of us, are going to rally at the convention at 9:00 to 12:00, and then we're going to march across the bridge.

The Crescent City Bridge--that they were not allowed to march across to dry land during the heights of the waters. And our objective for us is for all citizens who are in exile have the right to return, the right to a protected right to vote, the right to registration, the right to be protected from insurance predators. And all those survivors of this storm and flood must have priority on jobs, job contracts, and training. So whether you're in Bay St. Louis or whether you're in the Ninth Ward, all displaced citizens who are now in exile or not injured(ph) must be protected, and so far they are not getting protected from insurance predators, nor by our government.

CHIDEYA: Well, Reverend Jackson, we will stay up to date on your protest and on this evolving story. Reverend Jesse Jackson, thank you for your time.

Rev. JACKSON: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Coming up next, a St. Louis disc jockey is out of a job because of a racial slur he says was a slip of the tongue, and the Supreme Court rules residents of Puerto Rico can not vote in presidential elections. We'll discuss these topics and more on our roundtable, up next.

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