By Ying Nee Ooi

TheAmherstRecord.com



AMHERST — Paving the way toward normalcy and the reconstruction of New Orleans from the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. Postal Service and Louisiana state officials have joined forces to help displaced residents vote in several upcoming primary and municipal elections.

Karen Mazurkiewicz, USPS communication coordinator for Western New York, said a unique situation calls for nationwide post offices to remind Louisiana’s registered voters to submit absentee ballots.

“We’ve never had a Katrina before. Residents have never been displaced for so long,” Mazurkiewicz said. “But it’s of the utmost importance that people who were displaced have the opportunity to vote. That’s why the postal service is working so closely with the Louisiana secretary of state’s office. (We’re) trying to prompt them to action.”

Louisiana and Federal Emergency Management Agency officials are unable to track just how many residents are dispersed around the country, much less in WNY, Louisiana Secretary of State office spokesperson Jennifer Marusak said.

“The problem we’ve got with the FEMA list (of displaced residents) is that it’s a one-time snap shot in time,” Marusak said from New Orleans Tuesday. “It tells me that someone had requested aid to be sent (there). But if they had evacuated to Buffalo but ended up living with a brother in Dallas or ended up back in Orleans (County) but didn’t have problems, we can’t track them.”

Nevertheless the absentee ballot effort has been surprisingly and overwhelmingly commendable despite the fact that some deadlines are nearly three weeks away, Marusak said.

“We can’t even come close to guessing the number, but in the last mayoral election we had 2,500 (absentee ballot) requests and 6,000 requests for the presidential,” she said. “As of 10 a.m., we have received just under 10,000.”

For the April 22 New Orleans municipal election, registered voters must submit their absentee ballots to the Orleans County registrar’s office or the secretary of state office by April 21. These ballots should be mailed by April 17 to be delivered on time. Some new laws provide for a one-day extension of these deadlines.

Since the Katrina evacuations, Mazurkiewicz said the postal service has served as a proxy between residents and their hometowns.

“What we did in WNY is that we made sure they had all their documents necessary for an address change and to have their mail forwarded to them,” she said. “Now It’s important that they get the word and for them to know they can still submit an absentee ballot and have a say in their local election.”

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service will be in Louisiana helping to monitor the flow of absentee ballots.

Displaced voters needing additional information or an absentee ballot should contact the Louisiana Secretary of State Elections Division at 1-800-883-2805.

Contact Ying Nee Ooi at yingooi@gnnewspaper.com or 693-1000, Ext. 158.

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