Washington Louisiana officials are preparing to send out nearly 1 million mailers as part of a campaign to tell voters who fled the wrath of Hurricane Katrina how to cast ballots from afar, a problem not as widespread in other Gulf Coast states.
"It's unfair to think that displaced people would be election experts," Louisiana Secretary of State Al Ater said Saturday during a conference of secretaries of state.
Ater said he wants every voter driven out of Louisiana to have "the opportunity to participate, if they want, and that the bar is no higher for them to participate than it is if somebody's home didn't get destroyed."
In contrast, Mississippi faces fewer challenges because many of those who were displaced along the coast moved inland but are still in the state, its secretary of state, Eric Clark, told the conference.
Mississippi is considering consolidating voting areas to create "mega-precincts" where population density is lower, and it will also try to identify people who could cast absentee ballots, Clark said.
Nancy Worley, Alabama's top election official, said her state is more prepared for disasters because it was hit by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.
"As a result of that experience, we had learned a great deal about preparation," Worley said.
Still, Worley added, her office is only now getting reports from some of the polling places damaged by Katrina.
Louisiana officials estimated that 400,000 registered voters were displaced by the storm that ravaged the coast last summer. Displaced voters have relocated to every state except Alaska, Ater said.
No estimates of displaced voters were immediately available for Mississippi and Alabama.
Before Katrina intervened, voters in New Orleans had been scheduled to pick a mayor and other city officials on Saturday. Elections are now planned for April 22, with a runoff, if necessary, on May 20. Ater said he hopes that November elections in the state will go ahead without major problems.