Jackson, Sharpton lead rally opposing New Orleans vote

Associated Press
Published April 2, 2006

NEW ORLEANS - Hundreds of protesters led by the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton rallied Saturday, saying the city's election plans will disenfranchise voters displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

Jackson and other activists said the system of mail-in voting set up for the April 22 election for mayor and other positions in the mostly black city will make it difficult for voters living elsewhere to cast a ballot.

"We want the Voting Rights Act," Jackson said before the rally. Black leaders have said city elections could violate the landmark 1965 law designed to ensure voter equality.

The city election could have a broad effect nationwide, Sharpton said: "What happens in New Orleans will affect voting rights all over the United States."

Jackson and other activists are calling for satellite polling places for displaced voters in cities outside New Orleans, and even outside Louisiana. Fewer than half of the city's 460,000 residents have returned since the Aug. 29 storm flooded the city.

Activists also urged the release of updated lists of displaced voter addresses, a request the Federal Emergency Management Agency has denied, saying it would breach privacy.

About 2,000 people attended the rally and march, police said.

The rally was held at the convention center, site of some of the most vivid scenes of desperation out of Hurricane Katrina. It included state and federal lawmakers and comedian Bill Cosby, who urged residents to rebuild without the crime that plagued New Orleans before the storm.

"It's painful, but we can't heal ourselves unless we cleanse the wounds," Cosby said.

After the rally, protesters marched across a Mississippi River bridge where residents trying to leave the city after Katrina were turned back.

A lawsuit filed by two state legislators claims police in the city of Gretna used excessive force when refusing to let fleeing evacuees cross. State prosecutors are also investigating allegations of civil rights violations. Gretna officials have said they lacked resources to take in evacuees.

Interest in the municipal election is expected to be unusually high as the city decides how to rebuild.