St. George deadline uncertain; Registrar seeking AG opinion
BATON ROUGE - Darline Lee saw people circulating the petition to incorporate the City of St. George and wanted to make sure her signature was counted.
"I ran across the street, chased them down to make sure my name was on it," said Lee, who has lived in the area for six years.
But more than two months into the process of gathering signatures, the East Baton Rouge Parish Registrar of Voters isn't certain what the deadline for submitting the signed petitions will be.
The Secretary of State's Office date-stamped the petition on March 2, when Norman Browning hand-delivered it.
This appears to be where the registrar's confusion begins.
Historically, incorporation petitions were mailed to the Secretary of State. If a petition was filed properly, the secretary signed it and returned it by certified mail to the person heading the incorporation effort.
When the Secretary of State got the certified mail delivery receipt, the date the petitioner signed it established the timeline for gathering the signatures.
The hand-delivery leaves the registrar's office without a delivery receipt, and Registrar Steve Raborn, after several weeks of research, has now asked the Attorney General's office for a formal opinion.
"Because that step was overlooked, we're trying to make sure we have all the information we need to properly calculate the deadline," Raborn said.
Andrew Murrell, spokesman for the incorporation effort, said the timeline is clear.
He said Browning submitted the petition to then-Secretary of State Tom Schedler on March 2 and Schedler signed it and returned it to him before Browning left Schedler's office.
"Our belief is that the signature deadline is nine months from March 2, 2018," Murrell said.
Raborn said he hopes the Attorney General will be able to provide some official guidance on how to proceed. An Attorney General's opinion does not have the force of law, but serves as the legal standard until a court weighs in on a legal dispute.
Raborn said he is unsure what may happen.
"That's something the attorney general would probably have to advise, since that's a question of law," Raborn said.
Raborn was not the registrar when the previous St. George incorporation petition fell 71 signatures short of the 17,859 needed to put incorporation on a ballot.
At that time, some St. George proponents were critical of the registrar's process. An organized effort by an anti-incorporation group called Better Together was allowed to continue getting people to formally withdraw their signatures from the St. George petition as the registrar's office worked through the signature verification process.
Lee said she would not be surprised if something similar happened this time.
"I believe there is present government is looking for ways to keep it from going through," she said.