La. sues FEMA for costs of delayed ’05 elections

Mississippi and Florida received it. So did New York. Now, Louisiana wants federal reimbursement for the cost of elections that had to be postponed because of disasters.

Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler said the Federal Emergency Management Agency owes the Pelican State at least $1.7 million for elections postponed in 2005 by the devastation of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Schedler filed a civil suit in Baton Rouge federal court late Tuesday. He alleged that FEMA actually may owe Louisiana more than $3 million. He said many of Louisiana’s election machines had to be replaced because of damage from the hurricanes’ wind and water.

FEMA officials in Washington, D.C., were asked Wednesday for comment on Louisiana’s claims. No statement was issued.

“FEMA does not comment on pending litigation,” agency spokeswoman Mary Olsen said.

Schedler said in the suit that FEMA announced in April 2006 that it was denying Louisiana’s request for reimbursement of expenses associated with the hurricane-delayed elections.

“Mississippi had been reimbursed for their similar expenses as a result of the same hurricanes,” Schedler noted.

“After the destruction caused by Hurricane Charley on the state of Florida (in 2004), FEMA determined that … the reimbursement for emergency restoration of statewide elections was justified,” Schedler added.

After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, “the state of New York had to postpone its elections because of the damage done,” Schedler recalled.

New York officials requested and received $7.98 million in FEMA funding for the costs of postponed elections, according to Schedler’s suit.

Schedler quoted then-FEMA Director Joe M. Allbaugh as saying in 2002: “The terrorist attacks … temporarily disrupted New York’s primary election. President (George W.) Bush’s commitment to rebuild New York includes providing the resources to keep the democratic process strong.”

Louisiana’s secretary of state said in his suit that FEMA has twice rejected appeals of its original denial of the state’s catastrophe-caused election costs.

In the suit, Schedler asked FEMA to “reimburse the state of Louisiana for the same reasons it reimbursed New York, Florida and Mississippi.”

The suit, written by Assistant Attorney General William P. Bryan III, adds: “FEMA’s denial of reimbursement … shows extreme indifference to the citizens of the state of Louisiana.”