…today, the organizers of the petition put out a statement saying they have 17,076 signatures on it at present, which might actually constitute 25 percent of the registered voters in what would be East Baton Rouge’s newest municipality.
After months of not disclosing how many signatures they have, the leaders of the campaign to incorporate the city of St. George in East Baton Rouge Parish confirmed the number to NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune as of this weekend.
The PBS Frontline documentary on the St. George effort, set to air on Tuesday, will mention the number, and spokesman Lionel Rainey said they “thought it was time to confirm that and let people know exactly where we are.”
How many signatures are left to go is not entirely certain. The law requires signatures from a quarter of registered voters in the area to be incorporated, and since the beginning of the campaign last September, organizers have said that’s about 18,000. But Rainey and campaign chairman Joshua Hoffpauir said that’s an estimate based on the campaign’s own analysis of voter registration data, and they’re waiting on official word from the registrar of voters to find out the exact number. Their goal, however, is still to get 20,000 signatures, to provide a cushion for any that are tossed out.
The 20,000 figure might not even really be the goal. They ought to try to get 25,000 signatures. The more signatures they get on the petition the more committed voters to the incorporation of St. George they’re going to have at the ballot box; it’s reasonable to suggest that upwards of three-fourths of the names on that petition will be voting for the new city, and the lower the turnout in the election in which St. George is on the ballot the more of a sure thing it is that it will pass.
The question, of course, is how many registered voters actually exist in St. George. Nobody seems to know – what we do know is the population is about 107,000, but not how many of those people are registered voters – and the parish registrar of voters hasn’t released that information. It’s a decent bet they don’t even know, because the way things are set up the Baton Rouge/St. George border isn’t drawn around wards and precincts. Even within precincts along that border you’ll have some homes in Baton Rouge and some that will be in St. George. It’s a mess, and therefore it’s no surprise nobody knows what the size of the St. George electorate really is.
But if it’s 68,000 or so, or less than that, they might actually have the number. And now that they’re this close, the registrar is going to have to enter the fray and come up with an accurate count. Don’t be surprised if the St. George organizers make a public call for them to do just that.
Does this mean the petition is going to get turned in soon? Not necessarily, though there are factors mitigating in favor of submission. The downtown crowd is out recruiting whoever they can to annex whatever territory they can, and last week we saw evidence of that by their working to annex a bunch of vacant land in the southwestern part of the parish that would cut off five or six miles of riverfront property from the bulk of what would be St. George. The longer the organizers wait to turn the petition in the more of that you’ll see.
On the other hand, if you’re St. George you probably don’t want to get on the November ballot. That ballot will have a Congressional race and a Senate race on it, with candidates galore at least for the latter, and turnout would be expected to be relatively high. That might also be true of the December ballot, in which the Senate and LA-6 are both expected to have runoffs. Should St. George wait until March it’s virtually guaranteed they’d win the incorporation, but as we discussed last week that presents a different set of problems with respect to the state legislature and introduction/passage of bills they’ll need to get the city established.
That doesn’t count the question of all the lawsuits which will inevitably be filed once the city is incorporated, and that’s going to be a firestorm.
But one thing we do know now is that St. George will be on the ballot. They’re going to get the signatures to put it there. We just don’t know when they’ll cross the finish line – if they haven’t already.