BATON ROUGE, La. – Gov. Kathleen Blanco has postponed the New Orleans mayoral election indefinitely, setting up a legal battle with voters who filed a lawsuit seeking to ensure the election is held as scheduled.
Blanco's executive order cites the recommendation of Secretary of State Al Ater, the state's top elections official. Ater has said the city is incapable of holding elections in February because Hurricane Katrina caused so much damage to polling sites and voting machines.
The order was released Monday but Blanco signed it Friday. It did not set a new date for the elections, saying only that they should be held "as soon as practicable."
The postponement affects primaries for mayor, sheriff and city council seats, as well as runoffs in those races that had been set for March 4. Qualifying for candidates to get on the ballot had been set to begin Wednesday.
A group of New Orleans voters last week filed suit against the governor, seeking to force her to hold the election as scheduled. No hearing has been scheduled in that case.
The lawyer who filed the suit, Rob Couhig, said Blanco cannot postpone elections indefinitely because the city charter requires that they take place before May 1, the date newly elected officials would legally take office.
He said postponing the elections would infringe on his clients' right to select the city leaders who will determine how the city is rebuilt.
Couhig said he and lawyers for the state planned to meet Tuesday to discuss scheduling a hearing before a judge in Baton Rouge.
Blanco's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.