Election generators cause argument between New Orleans mayor and sec. of state

A streetcar passes a polling station in New Orleans. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell and Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin spent Sunday accusing one another of failing to make sure all the city’s polling places will have power Tuesday, but by Sunday night it appeared that all the city’s voters will be able to vote at polling sites that have power. Cantrell announced Sunday that night that Entergy  had restored power to all but three of the city’s polling sites and that “generators will be in place for all polling locations that will not have power restored by Election Day.”

Hurricane Zeta, a maximum-strength Category 2 hurricane, passed over the city Wednesday evening, knocking out power to about a half-million power customers in Southeast Louisiana.  Power crews have been working since then to restore power across the region. State government officials have asked them to make polling locations a priority.

Sunday’s accusations and recriminations began that  morning when Cantrell released a written statement claiming that Ardoin and his Commissioner of Elections, Sherri Wharton Hadskey, were “refusing to provide support for generators” to power up to 11 polling locations that may not have electricity restored by Tuesday. She said that the City of New Orleans would have to foot the bill to transport, install and maintain the generators.

“In failing to fulfill its duty, the Secretary of State’s office risks disenfranchising Orleans residents and threatens to suppress the vote,” Cantrell wrote. “Further, the Secretary’s office has taken the unprecedented position that City employees and resources must be pressed into service to fulfill critical functions that his office will not — including the transport, installation and maintenance of the generators, at City expense.”

New Orleans City Council Vice President Helena Moreno, also issued a statement accusing Ardoin of having a “callous disregard for his basic duties.” She said, “His inaction is despicable and unacceptable.”

Hours later, Ardoin responded with a statement of his own, insisting that those sites would receive generators to use on  Election Day, but he did not address who would pay for them. 

He said Cantrell and Moreno were “trying to score cheap political points” and said “all polling locations without power restoration will receive generators to operate Election Day equipment.” He did not directly address the allegation that New Orleans would have to use its resources to install and maintain the generators.  

“A Herculean effort to assess and restore all election infrastructure has been underway since the rain stopped falling and the wind stopped blowing, but Cantrell and Moreno have contributed nothing to that response effort,” Ardoin wrote. “My office has worked closely with all levels of state and local government and the private sector. Our partners have been nothing short of heroic in their efforts to restore power and help deliver the vote to Louisianans.”

The secretary of state’s office is normally responsible for funding at least half of the expenses for an election that includes both congressional and local candidates, according to Louisiana statute Title 18, Section 1400.1.

Entergy New Orleans may have been the “private sector” partners that Ardoin referred to. On Sunday evening, Cantrell announced on Twitter that  the city had worked with Entergy to secure generators for the polling sites and “close the gap created by the Secretary of State.”

She said that Entergy crews had restored power Sunday to eight of the 11 sites that had been without power that morning, leaving only three polling sites that will need generators. She said the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparation worked with Ardoin’s office to supply generators to two of the sites with Entergy New Orleans supplying a generator to the third.

“While neither the City of New Orleans nor Entergy are responsible for elections in the State of Louisiana,” Cantrell said, “we have worked together to ensure that generators will be in place for all polling locations that will not have power restored by Election Day.”

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Wesley Muller
Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the following 22 years since then, he has worked as a journalist for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. Much of his work has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and watchdog coverage of municipal and state government. He has received several honors and recognitions, including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus, a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper, and an adjunct English teacher at Baton Rouge Community College. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his teenage son and his wife, who is also a journalist.