Qualifying under way for special election

Two lawyers qualified Wednesday to run for an open seat on the bench at Orleans Parish Juvenile Court, beginning a special election that Clerk of Criminal District Court Arthur Morrell believes will draw little voter turnout.

Yolanda King and Doug Hammel, both Democrats, seek to replace former Deputy Chief Judge Tracey Flemings-Davillier, whom voters recently elected to the bench at Criminal District Court.

King is a former clerk for several courts and a former Orleans Parish assistant district attorney who now has a private practice. She has run previously unsuccessful campaigns for judgeships at Criminal District Court in 2008 and for Juvenile Court in 2002 and 2004.

Hammel, who previously worked as a prosecutor in Jefferson Parish, now runs his own law office. This is his first run for public office.

Qualifying for the April 6 race continues until 5 p.m. Friday.

That election will be the first one to be held with shorter voting hours. A new state law will see polls open at 7 a.m., rather than 6 a.m. They will still close at 8 p.m., Morrell said.

Fifteen polling places across the city could move in time for the election, Morrell said, but the City Council will have to approve those moves.

Because it’s a special election with only one race on the ballot, Morrell predicted a turnout of about 10 percent. The only thing that could draw more voters would be controversy, something the young campaign has yet to produce.

“That’s up to the candidates,” Morrell said.

While he expects low turnout for the election to decide who will fill the vacant juvenile court seat, Morrell said there is actually an upward trend in voter participation in Orleans Parish.

According to Morrell, there were 283,722 voters registered in the city in 2008. The state last year purged 8,000 nonactive voters from the rolls, but 22,407 new voters registered, he said.

The number of voters who participated in the November election increased by 10 percent, or about 9,300 voters, Morrell said.

“This last election showed more people are involved in voting. Hopefully this special election will show that even though it’s a special election, we have a higher percentage of people getting out and casting their votes,” Morrell said. “I think more young people are qualifying to vote, and they’re starting to use that right to vote, so we want to keep them, I guess, with that enthusiasm.”