There is no doubt that April's New Orleans elections will be a pale shadow of what they should be. The city is smaller and whiter than it was before Hurricane Katrina, political activists say. But a federal judge ruled correctly that those elections should be held anyway.
That ruling angers community and activist groups, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Public figures, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, visited New Orleans to protest the April 22 mayoral and council elections as premature. But the judge, who also is African-American, rightly saw an overriding need for normalcy in his city. His decision is a reaffirmation both for New Orleans itself and for the principle that voting, the fundamental principle of any democracy, far outweighs the need to re-establish power blocks.
Not everyone agrees that the city's racial profile has changed so completely that whites are now in the majority; some experts say the majority remains African-American, and that the relatively small number of requests for absentee ballots so far indicates most registered voters have returned. Tellingly, calls to postpone the election have gained little traction.
Federal Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle, who lost his home in the storms, also rightly noted that re-establishing a representative vote for his city is a "work in progress" and that plans for the coming elections are only marginally sufficient. Despite widespread advertising and campaigning by candidates in such resettlement centers as Atlanta and Houston, it will be difficult to get many to return to vote or file absentee ballots.
But no election is permanent, and New Orleans' recovery will give more voters more chances in the future. In the meantime, the city needs an elected leadership, and those who already have recommitted to their own citizenship of that city need this opportunity to vote for that recovery's local leaders. This election likely will have its flaws -- but it also will draw the city's most committed voters.