Hurricane Ida damage forces relocation of Louisiana polling places

More than half of Terrebonne’s voting precincts have been relocated

By: - November 11, 2021 7:00 am
Bayou community voters will have new polling locations

Workers with the Louisiana Secretary of State’s office assemble portable voting trailers at the Bourg Community Center in Terrebonne Parish on Nov. 8, 2021, ahead of the Nov. 13 statewide election. (Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)

For the second year in a row, some Louisiana voters will be diverted to alternate polling locations to cast their ballots because of the destruction of a hurricane. 

Terrebonne Parish has had to move 40 of its 77 voting precincts ahead of the Nov. 13 election because the original polling places were damaged during Hurricane Ida in late August. Neighboring Lafourche Parish, likewise, has relocated 10 of its voting locations due to Ida. Last year, Calcasieu Parish had to move most of its polling locations ahead of the 2020 election because of damage related to hurricanes Laura and Delta.

This year , the Voting Machine Center on Valhi Boulevard in Houma, is hosting seven separate precincts. Another location, the Bourg Community Center on Eldred Street, is hosting four separate precincts and relying on the state’s portable voting trailers. Voters will also be casting their ballots outside under a tent at that location. 

“We’ve clumped a lot of precincts together into locations,” Terrebonne Parish Registrar of Voters Rhonda Rogers said. 

When Hurricane Ida slammed ashore at Port Fourchon on Aug. 29 packing gusts of up to 170 miles per hour, it unleashed most of its destruction on Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, damaging or destroying an estimated 13,000 structures.  

Since that time, the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office has been working with local officials to set up new polling locations and get the word out to voters about the changes they should expect. 

“We’ve become pretty adept at dealing with the impacts of conducting an election in the aftermath of hurricanes and other disasters,” said Secretary of State spokesman John Tobler. 

When natural disasters occur, the office deploys teams from its election operations division to scout the affected precincts and conduct a full audit of potential alternate polling locations, making sure they are within the legal distance from voters, offer adequate parking and meet other criteria such as handicap access. 

“We do try to be conscious of the distance because not everybody drives,” Tobler said. “We try to make it as convenient as their normal voting location.”

Tobler said the options are then screened by others within the Secretary of State’s Office, including the legal and administrative divisions. Local governments then hold a public meeting to discuss and select the new location, he said. 

When polling locations are relocated, the state informs the affected voters. This is done through mass media outreach such as public signage, television, radio, newspaper and online announcements, as well as individualized outreach via phone calls and letters mailed to voters. Also, parish registrars have been calling individual voters who are registered in affected areas.

In the days leading up to the election, the state deploys teams to set up the temporary polling locations. The sites can include tents, portable trailers, generators, space heaters and other amenities to make voters as comfortable as possible. 

“It’s a tremendous amount of work that encompasses our legal team, our purchasing team, our elections team,” Tobler said. “But we’ve been able to handle it.” 

Because there are no statewide candidates on the ballot, officials expect low turnout this weekend. 

“There seems to be very little interest in this election,” Lafourche Parish Registrar of Voters Michael Boudreaux said. “That’s on top of the conditions in the parish from the storm. I think we’ll have very low turnout.”

There are local candidate races in some areas, and every Louisiana voter can vote on four proposed constitutional amendments

View a list of the precinct relocations here for Lafourche Parish and here for Terrebonne Parish. For more information on the election and where to vote, visit GeauxVote.com or contact the Registrar of Voters, for Lafourche Parish: (985) 447-3256; for Terrebonne Parish: (985) 873-6533.

In Terrebonne parish, there is also a property tax renewal for Recreation District 3A, which covers parts of Houma, and a 10-year property tax renewal for the Bayou Cane Fire Protection District, which serves more than 30,000 residents, on the ballot. 

In Lafourche Parish, Raceland is holding an election for a constable seat vacated by Dwain LeBouef, who died March 20. Four candidates have qualified for that race. 

Lafourche voters will also decide on the Choctaw Fire Department’s parcel fee for fire-protection services. If approved, residents would pay a $75 annual fee per occupied home or business on their property for the next 10 years.

The City of Thibodaux has four propositions on the ballot. Proposition No. 1 would change the date that the new city administration would take office after an election if passed. Proposition No. 2 would change two of the nominating authorities for the Thibodaux Civil Service Board if approved. 

There are also two tax propositions. Voters can approve the renewal of a 1.83 mill property tax over 10 years that would raise money for the city’s fire departments. Voters can also approve the renewal of a 2.74 mill property tax over 10 years that would raise money for city streets and roadways. 

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Wes Muller
Wes 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 years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Much of his journalism has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and coverage of municipal and state government. He has received 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 and a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his two sons and his wife, who is also a journalist.

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