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(photo credit: AP [file])
Governor Kathleen Blanco agreed to postpone New Orleans' Feb. 4 elections for mayor and City Council for up to eight months because of the damage and dislocation caused by Hurricane Katrina.
Blanco's decision came hours after Louisiana's top elections official recommended the delay, saying polling places have not been rebuilt and hundreds of thousands of voters remain scattered across the country.
Secretary of State Al Ater said he needs to ensure that poll workers are in place and polling places and absentee voting systems ready for an election he called "the most important in that city's life."
"The new administration, the new council, the new people that will be elected will be in charge of making decisions affecting billions and billions and billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives," Ater said.
Ater said the election should be held no later than Sept. 30.
The highest profile race set for Feb. 4 is for mayor. Incumbent Ray Nagin has gotten both criticism and compliments for his handling of the Katrina disaster. He has not formally announced whether he will seek re-election.
Ater said he recommended the delay with regret but noted he could not guarantee that New Orleans would be physically able to set up the infrastructure for an election he called "the most important in that city's life."
"The new administration, the new council, the new people that will be elected, will be in charge of making decisions affecting billions and billions and billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives," Ater said.
Ater laid much of the blame for the delay on the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which he said has not provided "a penny" of the $2 million his office requested to pay for voting machines and an upgrade to New Orleans' absentee voting system.
Ater said FEMA also took until this week to respond to his October request for a list of addresses of Louisiana residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina, so they can be informed of how to vote from out of state.
"Our job would have been a lot easier if FEMA had been more forthright and more forthcoming," Ater said.
The city will need to bring in temporary voting buildings and hire dozens of new elections workers, on top of problems tracking and communicating with voters spread around the country, Ater said.