Lifetime Appointments of Registrars Under Scrutiny
Louisiana lawmakers weren’t talking about U.S. Supreme Court justices Thursday, as they discussed the phrase “appointed for life”. They were actually talking about registrars of voters.
“Currently, the way it’s stated in the Constitution, the local governing authority’s responsible for the appointment of the registrar of voters, but beyond that, there’s nothing,” said Rep. Mike Danahay of Sulphur.
Danahay is chairing a new House and Governmental Affairs subcommittee, looking into changing the rules governing appointments, pay and terms of service of the registrar of voters in each parish. The subcommittee was created by House Resolution 94, during the spring legislative session.
The committee got a little history lesson from retired East Baton Rouge parish registrar Nat Bankston, on how the lifetime appointment came to be.
“The constitution of 1921 said that you can be removed ‘at will’. One of the Long brothers removed the registrar of voters in Baton Rouge – three times,” Bankston explained, getting appreciative chuckles from legislators and the audience. “The council kept appointing him back, so the dean of the school of law at Loyola wrote into the new constitution in ’74 that the only way a registrar can be removed is ‘for cause’.”
Current law governing registrars says the local parish council or police jury appoints them, but can’t remove them once appointed. That takes conviction of malfeasance or another felony. While there haven’t been any egregious incidents of misbehavior by registrars recently, there have been numerous complaints.
“They say that their association polices themselves,” Assistant Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin stated. “Self-police really isn’t an appropriate accountability process when you should be accountable to the citizens of Louisiana.”
Current law also requires annual pay raises—of 7 percent.
“We do not believe that the current system is fair to the taxpayers,” Ardoin added.
The study committee is working toward drafting bills for the next session, and is looking at setting minimum qualifications for parish registrars, setting up disciplinary review procedures, and limiting terms of office.