Political science professors analyze midterms

Olivia Warren, Associate News Editor

Tulane University Political Science professors broke down Louisiana’s recent ballot measures in the aftermath of last month’s midterm elections. (“Louisiana State Capitol Building” by Chrismiceli, Wikimedia Commons)

Midterm election decisions enacted new state constitutional amendments, bringing new changes for Louisiana and New Orleans beyond Senate and Congressional elections. Eight proposed amendments to the state constitution were on the ballot, and only three passed. All eight had the potential to tangibly impact the lives of Louisianians, but some had more pressing implications for New Orleanians. 

Amendment 5 passed, allowing local governments to reduce water bill charges if they are caused by poor infrastructure.

 “New Orleans of all the places in Louisiana has the most ancient infrastructure,” political science professor, Scott Nolan, said. The amendment aims to prevent leaky pipes, hurricanes and floods that lead to surges in water bills from burdening New Orleanians.

Amendment 5, which failed, would have allowed taxing bodies to reevaluate the millage rate more often. The millage rate “is a [property] tax rate that is based on several factors,” Nolan said. Nolan said the amendment’s “implication for New Orleans isn’t exactly a city wide concern. It ranges from person to person.” 

The amendment’s confusing wording even boggled political scientists. American government professor, Michael Pickering, said he reached out to multiple colleagues to understand Amendment 5. 

“I really, really dislike … wording for amendments and bills, because I feel dumb reading them,” Pickering said.

Political science professor, Gwen Prowse, said Amendment 5 represents “a really big concern for voters and for voter literacy.” 

“Younger voters, who are just getting involved in the electoral process, not having any kind of translational resources can be super damaging,” Prowse said. 

Amendment 6 failed by around 7,000 votes — less than 1% of the votes. “And people say voting doesn’t matter,” Pickering said. The amendment would have capped yearly property tax increases in Orleans Parish at 10%. 

Despite only applying to Orleans Parish, the measure was voted on statewide. 

“Since it affects the state budget, everybody in the state gets to vote,” Nolan said.

“Outside of New Orleans, people really don’t care about New Orleans,” Pickering said, explaining why the measure failed. 

“Why would someone in a Republican state that does not like taxes…be against capping a tax?” Pickering said. “I don’t know, it’s an interesting question.” 

Nolan said that perhaps the amendment’s controversy goes deeper than New Orleans and non-New Orleans voters. 

“You’ve got a whole bunch of people who say taxes should be higher on really beautiful houses on St. Charles with beautiful huge yards. It’s time for their taxes probably to go up,” he said. 

Representative Edmond Jordan (D) introduced Amendment 7 with a different intention than the one that appeared on Louisianians’ ballots. Jordan urged voters to vote against it. The amendment’s original intention was to prevent prisons from forcing incarcerated individuals to work. 

Amendment 7 was one of several measures nationwide that mentioned slavery. 

“The 13th Amendment to the Constitution says that you can force people to work against their will inside of the criminal justice system, unless state law or a state constitutional amendment bans it,” Nolan said.

“In committee, the wording was changed to outlaw slavery, except for those in prison. So they reversed his intention,” Pickering said. “And that’s already outlawed … It’s reinforcing what we already have. It’s not changing anything.”

Pickering said Republicans have the majority in the Louisiana legislature and therefore were able to change the bill. 

“They hijacked it in committee, because they … wanted to keep forced servitude in prison, because they believe it’s okay. And so they changed the wording to this confusing thing, and said, ‘Okay, now let’s put it to a vote,’” Pickering said. “And what’s the worst that happens for them? … Either they get what they want reaffirmed in the Constitution, or nothing changes.”

Louisiana is the incarceration capital of the country, incarcerating at twice the rate of the national average. New Orleans is also the leading city in the country for wrongful convictions. Over half of the prison population in Louisiana is Black. 

According to The Sentencing Project, “Black Americans are incarcerated in state prisons at nearly 5 times the rate of white Americans,” and “Latinx individuals are incarcerated in state prisons at a rate that is 1.3 times the incarceration rate of whites.”

U.S. Census data shows 59.2% of New Orleans identifies as Black or African American and 5.5% identifies as Hispanic or Latino.

“Because [people of color] are incarcerated at a higher rate, the fact that forced slavery in prison continues, affects New Orleans … more than the rest of Louisiana,” Pickering said.

According to the ACLU of Louisiana, incarcerated laborers earn between $0.02 and $0.40 hourly. Incarcerated laborers face few benefits, poor working conditions and harsh punishments for not working. A poultry processor called DG Foods in Bastrop, Louisiana forced incarcerated workers to continue working at the height of the pandemic, and if they refused, they could lose credit towards a shortened sentence. 

“People are smart enough to figure out that hiring people at $15 an hour is going to make their property and income taxes go up faster,” Nolan said, making it cheaper to arrest people and force them to work. “That’s cruel. It’s not smart. And here we are.”

Prowse said the muddled nature of Amendment 7’s wording on the ballot, as well as its changes through committee, confused a lot of voters. 

“[It] was worded in a way that made it very confusing for voters to know what they were really voting for,” Prowse said.

Prowse said that voting on statewide measures and amendments should be treated just as importantly as voting for representatives, but ballot measures often receive less attention. While other states have ballot measures initiated by citizens and civil society groups, Louisiana’s measures are usually proposed by legislators. 

“One obstacle is just the democratic process by which these measures appear on the ballot and who’s invested in them,” Prowse said.

Prowse said voters need to be educated on statewide measures. 

“The best way to get this information is if you are reading, for example, Nola.com,” she said. “The editorial board will provide their endorsements … or looking at civil society groups who are really invested in voter education in New Orleans and Louisiana.”

“[Voting] is an incredibly impactful way to … engage in the nuances of our state in order to hopefully make it a better place,” Prowse said. 

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