New Orleans — A recount of early voting and absentee ballots related to the hotly contested renewal of tolls for the Crescent City Connection bridge is scheduled for Saturday, but the results might not be officially released until some time later.
Judge William Morvant of the 19th Judicial District in East Baton Rouge Parish ordered the recount, which will take place at New Orleans City Hall. The recount is closed to the public, although opponents of the toll will be allowed to watch the proceedings.
Morvant ordered the recount after toll opponents challenged the results of the November election, which saw tolls being renewed on the span for another 20 years. That renewal passed by fewer than 20 votes, and came despite voters in Jefferson Parish and Plaquemines Parish voting the measure down. In addition, initial results on election night showed the measure failing before that result flip-flopped due to ballots tabulated late at night.
G. Patrick Hand III is the lawyer who challenged the renewal in December at the request of Stop the Tolls LLC, a West Bank citizens group opposed to the renewal. Hand said Friday that Morvant has requested that the results of the recount be sealed after it is completed, and he’s required those results to be delivered to him for a ruling.
Hand said parties involved in the case are prohibited from announcing the results before Morvant makes a decision.
“I can’t say anything” he said at his Gretna office on Friday.
Hand and Stop the Tolls argued that not only was the margin incredibly slim, but there may have chicanery in how the votes in New Orleans were counted. The group also complained that a poll worker in eastern New Orleans was trying to influence results and that many voters eligible to vote on the renewal were forced to use provisional ballots.
Hand has expressed confidence that the recount will reverse the decision but said that if that doesn’t happen, Stop the Tolls will argue that the entire vote needs to be nullified and held again. The toll vote drew ardent support from both sides of the issue, with supporters engaging in a media blitz and both sides holding dueling press conferences in the run-up to the election. Supporters call the tolls essential to the maintenance and improvement of the bridge and West Bank Expressway, while opponents call the fee an unfair tax primarily on West Bank residents. The recount will be overseen by the Terrebonne Parish registrar of voters.