Lafourche Parish is struggling to find a polling place for members of the United Houma Nation in Golden Meadow.
Voters of Ward 10, Precinct 7 have been voting at the old Golden Meadow Settlement School for decades but face the possibility of having to vote at Golden Meadow Middle School this fall.
The Lafourche School Board said needed repairs at the Settlement School won’t be completed in time for the election.
Members of the Houma Nation said if they’re forced to change voting precincts, they simply won’t vote.
“What good is a place to vote if they won’t go there,” Councilman Daniel Lorraine said.
As recently as 40 or 50 years ago, members of the tribe didn’t even go into the town of Golden Meadow. The Settlement School was established in the 1930s when tribal members weren’t allowed to attend the public schools in Golden Meadow.
That history is a big reason why residents of the area don’t want to move the polling site.
The Parish Council pulled two ordinances at the Tuesday, July 23 meeting that would have moved the polling site to the middle school.
But Lafourche Parish Clerk of Court Annette Fontana said the council needs to move quickly. The best course of action would be to secure a polling site before qualifying begins, but that is now less than one week away. Changing it after qualifying would require a series of emergency actions, she said.
The Parish Council is ultimately responsible for setting polling locations. To establish a polling site, the parish needs to have a current lease with the property’s owner. Both the Settlement School and Golden Meadow Middle are Lafourche Parish School Board properties.
Any lease agreement sent to the council has to be introduced as an ordinance, requiring a two-week holdover between introduction and a public hearing and vote.
During the May 4 election, Fontana said some concerns were raised about leaking water in the Settlement School’s restroom.
Adding to the complications, a lease between the School Board and the tribe reportedly expired 10 years ago, an issue that was brought to light after the recent leaks were reported.
“This puts us in a strange situation,” Fontana said.
This summer, the School Board notified the clerk’s office that the Settlement School wouldn’t be fixed before the election and therefore couldn’t be used. Fontana said the board offered up the middle school instead.
“The last thing I ever want to do is cause these people grief,” Fontana said, adding that she’s been trying to help the parish facilitate a solution.
“I know the citizens are concerned. I’m concerned,” she said.
Lanor Curole, the administrator for the United Houma Nation, said the tribe has continuously occupied that building since 1977.
“We’ve been committed to make repairs before the election,” Curole said.
The tribe wasn’t aware that the polling location could be changed until just a few days before the council meeting, she said.
“It would be a breach of voter equity to move it out of the community,” Curole said.
Lorraine, who represents the area, said if the council changes the polling site, it could never go back. He suggested the parish bring it portable restrooms to be able to use the Settlement School without issue.
Fontana said council members needed to reach out to all of their School Board members to quickly find a solution.
-- Daily Comet Staff Writer Julia Arenstam can be reached at 448-7636 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @JuliaArenstam.
Posted on Tue, July 30, 2019
by By Julia Arenstam Daily Comet Staff Writer