This year marks the 4th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. As the city of New Orleans moves towards recovery, it must start thinking about electing a new mayor. Actorruled himself out as a likely candidate, citing his controversial platform to legalize gay marriage and marijuana, and incumbent mayor Ray Nagin of “Chocolate City” fame is ineligible to participate due to term limits. Finding a field of eligible candidates may be difficult due to a protectionist provision in the City Charter which states:
“The Mayor shall be a citizen of the United States and a qualified elector of the City, and shall have been domiciled in the City for at least five years immediately preceding the election.”— New Orleans Home Rule Charter, Section 4-202.
Residents were not allowed to return home for over a month following Nagin’s mandatory evacuation order, and whether evacuees experienced a change in domicile during that mandatory evacuation may be an question in the upcoming April 2010 election. The issue is whether individuals can meet the length of residency requirement due to their voluntary displacement.
Records like voter registration, bank accounts, and vehicle registrations listed at a certain address can meet domicile requirements. Depending on the individual and the extent of damage their New Orleans residence received, all of the above items may be lost in the storm waters or misplaced due to mail stoppage, and if potential candidates changed their address for any reason including insurance claims, they may have disrupted the five-year residency requirement.
Residents who were “involuntarily displaced” and changed their domicile even temporarily due to the uncertainty of the storm, are not immediately disqualified as candidates for the mayoral election. A Louisiana statute (La. R.S. 18:451:3) addresses the involuntary displacement of any person seeking election to an office. Involuntary displacement is not a disqualification from holding office unless a change in domicile or voting registration in another district occurs. The question remains whether residents, who established a new domicile due to voluntary displacement, even temporarily, can meet the five-year residency requirement?
Martina Mills is a student at William and Mary Law School