With only a few days left before Election Day, officials from the Orleans Parish Clerk of Criminal Court’s Office and the Secretary of State have been working to assess the condition of polling places around New Orleans following Hurricane Zeta.

There are 126 polling places around the city, Orleans Parish Clerk of Criminal District Court Arthur Morrell, who serves as the chief elections officer for the city, told The Lens in a Thursday interview. Morrell said his staff will spend the next several days calling or driving to them to determine whether they will be fit for voters to use on Tuesday.

Along with the presidential election, New Orleanians will be voting in Congressional races, a high-profile race for district attorney, seven proposed constitutional amendments, and judges in the state Supreme Court, state appeals court and Criminal and Civil District Court.

Morrell said he will have to make a determination about any relocations and inform the Secretary of State and the City Council by Sunday, when voting machines are set to be delivered to the sites. 

The more pervasive problem than physical damage may be ongoing power outages. As of Wednesday evening, nearly 80 percent of the city was without power.

Tyler Brey, press secretary for Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, said on Thursday that relocations may not be necessary if lack of electricity is the only problem at a polling place.

“If power is the only thing holding a polling location back, that’s more easily remedied than water damage or something like that,” Brey said, adding that his office expects to know more about polling place conditions in the city in the next 24 to 48 hours.

Brey said that the office is in talks to acquire power units for the city and other severely impacted parishes. He could not immediately say whether the state or the parishes would be responsible for the cost of the generators.

Morrell’s office has little time to inform voters of any changes to polling locations, but he seemed confident that they will be able to get the word out.

“We will know which places are bad. We will make an announcement,” he said. He hopes to place an announcement in the newspaper and said he will get word out to local media. He also said officials would be placed outside of closed locations on Election Day to inform voters who missed an announcement.

Many New Orleans voters have already cast ballots in the city. Early voting ended earlier this week, and according to statistics from the Secretary of State, more than 98,000 Orleans Parish residents have already voted by mail or in person at one of several early voting sites around the city. That’s nearly 36 percent of total registered voters in the city and nearly 60 percent of New Orleanians who voted — early or on Election Day — in the 2016 presidential election. One of those sites — the Smoothie King Center — is being contemplated as a possible alternate location for Election Day, Morrell said.

Charles Maldonado

Charles Maldonado is the editor of The Lens. He previously worked as The Lens' government accountability reporter, covering local politics and criminal justice. Prior to joining The Lens, he worked for...