[JURIST] The US Justice Department Thursday invoked its authority under the 1965 Voting Rights Act [DOJ backgrounder] to approve scheduled April 22 municipal elections in New Orleans [JURIST news archive]. African American leaders had pressed the Department to block the vote on the grounds that it effectively disenfranchised many African American residents displaced across the country by Hurricane Katrina [JURIST news archive]. State officials have defended the ballot saying that they have taken major steps [LA SOS displaced voter information] to make it easier for people to vote by mail, and that satellite polling stations would be set up in other parts of Louisiana.
NAACP president Brice Gordon said [press release] Thursday that he was "deeply disappointed" by the decision and that the organization was taking legal advice. The NAACP had promised that if the DOJ did not set up satellite voting stations in major centers outside Louisiana it would take steps to bus in former New Orleans residents [JURIST report]; it has already set up opened 15 voter assistance centers in nine states to help with what it called the "complex" absentee ballot process. Rainbow/PUSH Coalition Jesse Jackson leader called the DOJ ruling "more onerous than the poll tax laws of 1965" and has vowed to sue. A major protest rally [press release] is already scheduled for New Orleans on April 1.
Before Katrina, African Americans made up about 70% of the New Orleans population; since Katrina struck at the end of August, only about half of the city's population of approximately 465,000 has returned [official city population estimate; Katrina demographic impact data], and several predominantly black areas, like the city's Ninth Ward, are still largely uninhabitable. AP has more.