UPDATE: The Registrar of Voters says the number of signatures the St. George organizers would need to satisfy the requirements of putting the incorporation on the ballot is 16,500 – there are 65,998 registered voters in what would be the city limits of St. George.
If that’s so, the 18,300 or so signatures on the St. George petition turned in today is very likely to be sufficient to put the question to the ballot in the spring.
ORIGINAL: Amidst what’s become a race between City Hall as it attempts to annex as much far-flung commercial real estate as possible and the St. George organizers trying to get as many signatures as possible toward putting the incorporation of a new city in East Baton Rouge Parish, this morning sees a significant development…
This morning, the Committee to Incorporate the City of St. George turned in over 18,000 petition signatures to the East Baton Rouge Parish Registar of Voters. We chose to turn the petition in early due to the constant efforts by the City of Baton Rouge to undermine the democratic process. This petition is a testament to the legitamate concerns of nearly 20,000 registered voters in this parish. We will continue to agressively gather signatures until the election has been called.
The petition being turned in has around 18,300 signatures on it, which is more than the 17,746 that EBR Registrar of Voters Elaine Lamb had informed the St. George organizers was needed. But there is still a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the effort, for a couple of reasons. First, Lamb had said she doesn’t think the 17,746 figure is accurate – so it’s an unreliable target. And second, it’s expected that there might be some invalid signatures among the 18,300 in the St. George petition. If it’s 1,000 or so, then they might need to get another 600-700.
But state law requires that upon notification of a deficiency in the petition St. George would get 60 days to add signatures, which they say they’re continuing to work on until they get to the 20,000 they had set as an initial goal.
Why “jump the gun” and turn the petition in today?
Because to date, the annexations the city has made – of the Mall of Louisiana and L’Auberge Casino, most notably – haven’t included any actual voters in what would be St. George. They’ve included property nobody actually lives on. But at some point, Baton Rouge will move on property which does include registered voters – and if it finds voters willing to be annexed (not an easy sell, because if you change status from unincorporated EBR to the city of Baton Rouge you’re going to put yourself in position to have to pay the CATS tax, but nevertheless it’s possible there might be a pocket of residents near the borderline who favor annexation) that could well invalidate the petition.
So far, while Baton Rouge is going to argue – and has hired attorney Mary Olive Pierson in advance of filing suit – is that since they’ve annexed territory since the introduction of the St. George petition and thus altered the map the petition depicts, they’ve succeeded in invalidating it. The conventional wisdom, buttressed by a legal opinion from the Attorney General’s office, is that without moving any registered voters from St. George to Baton Rouge nothing that has happened so far would invalidate it. Any registered voters moving might change that.
The reality is that St. George is going to be litigated in court before the voters will get a shot at it. The organizers might as well get that process started, so today’s announcement isn’t a surprise.