The Natchitoches Parish Voter’s and Civic League welcomed four guest speakers from among local officeholders. Together, they addressed topics critical to maintaining the representation of Natchitoches residents.
State Senator Louie Bernard, Clerk of Court David Stamey, Registrar of Voters Kathrin Holden and Parish President John Richmond met with League members to discuss changes to voting districts, important legislative actions and the importance of every person’s vote in local, state and federal elections.
Stamey and Holden shared the floor to present a unified message of the importance of voter engagement. Together, they sought to dispel the impression that a single vote doesn’t matter, and answer questions about voting procedures.
Stamey addressed concerns he has heard about topics related to voting and election including the age of voting machines and the validity of early voting. He stated that while the voting machines in use are older models, they are functional, and that most of the problems encountered during elections are the result of operator errors. He made it clear that voters should not push the cast ballot button if they believe there is a problem with the information displayed on their ballot. Voters should remain in the booth and ask for assistance from an election worker if they encounter any problems during the voting process.
Stamey indicated Natchitoches has roughly 24,000 registered voters, but turnout hovers between 12 and 15% during local elections and only climbs above 50% during presidential and gubernatorial races. Stamey cited recent elections when the winning candidates won by only a handful of votes to emphasize the importance of individual voters. He stressed the usefulness of the GeauxVote App for voters to stay informed about their voting status, polling location and upcoming elections. He noted that voters who don’t vote in two consecutive federal elections should expect a letter from the Registrar of Voters to confirm their address and should respond to maintain their eligibility.
Stamey also reminded voters that the qualifying window for November’s elections will be July 20-22 for candidates seeking to be on the ballot for upcoming congressional, school board and municipal elections.
Holden emphasized the importance of residents registering to vote and maintaining up to date information about their place of residence. She encouraged community groups to take an active part by organizing voter registration drives within the community. The Registrar of Voters office conducts its own voting drives in public locations such as high schools and the library, but citizens may also register voters by requesting forms from her office. She noted that residents must register to vote prior to an election (20 days online or 30 days in person or by mail) , and that 16 and 17-year-olds may register to vote to ensure they are prepared when they become eligible at 18.
Holden reminded League members of the support her office provides to voters. She stressed the availability of absentee ballots to voters who will be out of town, the accessibility of early voting at the courthouse and the rules for voting assistance for people with disabilities. She encouraged residents who need assistance while voting to make prior arrangements with her office, but noted that a note from a physician can be submitted to the election commissioner on election day to receive assistance and will be kept on file for future elections.
Richmond offered his endorsement of voter registration efforts and emphasized that Parish residents should follow through by voting in every election. He noted that with fewer people voting in recent elections, those who do wield outsize influence in the direction taken by the parish.
Bernard stated his support for legislation to protect voting rights such as SB 350, which establishes new standards for absentee ballots to be accepted in light of commonly, encountered voter errors. He presented members with an updated map of the state senate’s voting map produced during redistricting. He pointed out areas in the north of the state that had been added to his district to increase the number of voters to roughly 120,000 residents.
Community member John Robertson asked how convicted felons may have their voting rights reinstated after serving their time. Holden and Stamey answered that reformed felons should request to have their voting rights restored through their probation and parole officer, who will submit the appropriate documents to the Registrar of Voters when conditions are met.
League President J.W. Scarborough reminded members of pending legislation and bills that the U.S. Congress has failed to pass. Among the legislative issues he voiced support for were efforts to regulate the price of insulin, increase the federal minimum wage, strengthen voting rights and enhance mental health programs. He emphasized a philosophy of local progress through political cooperation and compared the current political environment to crawfish in a bucket.
Natchitoches resident Annie Jo Armstrong won the drawing for a 50-inch television. Proceeds from the raffle will support the League’s goal of acquiring a headquarters for their organization. The next meeting is scheduled for July 12 at 6 p.m. at Winnfield Memorial Funeral Home.