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Rev. Jackson campaigns for delay in New Orleans mayoral elections

ATLANTA -- The Rev. Jesse Jackson is touring Southern cities this week to rally opposition to next month's mayoral election in New Orleans, saying too many Hurricane Katrina victims scattered around the country will be unable to vote.

He is asking black churches, black colleges, and other organizations in cities like Atlanta, Jackson, Miss., and Memphis, to encourage their members to march on New Orleans on April 1. The election is set for April 22.

Jackson and other civil rights leaders have demanded that the election be postponed. They have not said when they believe the balloting should be held.

Jackson said the march will be the most critical demonstration since the civil rights era.

''Fast is not more important than fair. We marched for fair elections, not fast elections," he said at a church in Atlanta, referring to his involvement in the civil rights movement with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Black leaders have said that Louisiana officials have not done enough to ensure that voters will be able to vote. Louisiana loosened procedures for absentee balloting and plans to set up satellite polling places around the state for New Orleans residents driven from their homes, but it decided not to create such stations outside Louisiana.

New Orleans was about 70 percent black before Katrina, and some blacks fear that they will lose political power if the elections go forward now, when less than half of the city's pre-Katrina population of 465,000 has returned.

Two dozen candidates are running for mayor, including the incumbent, C. Ray Nagin, who is black. The candidates have had to campaign nationally to reach their scattered electorate. Only seven of them showed up last weekend in Atlanta for a forum held for evacuees in the area.

''Those who are running don't know who is eligible, and the eligible don't know who's running," Jackson said.

Among those scheduled to attend the march in New Orleans are Bill Cosby; Harry Belafonte; Marc Morial, a former New Orleans mayor and now the National Urban League president; Bruce Gordon, NAACP president; the Rev. Al Sharpton; and the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Charles Steele.

The Rev. Raphael G. Warnock of Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church, which was once where King's pulpit, said a busload of his congregation members plan to march in New Orleans.

''We are unified in saying no to those who would roll back voting rights won through the shedding of blood," Warnock said.

Jackson said the two options for casting a ballot on April 22, voting absentee or going back to Louisiana, violate federal law.

Steele wants the federal government to help pay voters' travel costs or to provide out-of-state satellite voting sites.

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