Nearly 6 percent of Louisiana’s 2.8 million voters have cast ballots in advance of Saturday’s statewide elections where local races appear to be fueling turnout.

Some 162,647 of the state’s voters took advantage of a seven-day period to early vote or have voted by mail or other options, according to complete statistics released Tuesday

by the Secretary of State’s Office.

It’s shy of the record-setting early voting of more than 260,000 for the 2008 presidential balloting featuring Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain.

The number is nearly 13 percent higher than those who opted to early vote four years ago when Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal won election.

“We are attributing it to more and more the popularity of early voting for convenience, coupled with a lot going on election day,” Secretary of State Tom Schedler said. “People like early voting. If anything they want expansion of it away from the courthouse.”

Schedler noted the popularity of the Archive Building early voting location in Baton Rouge.

Many local residents opted to get voting out of the way ahead of time because of other activities, including LSU playing Auburn in Tiger Stadium, Schedler said.

Topping Saturday’s ballot is a lackluster governor’s race with hot down-ballot races for lieutenant governor and secretary of state.

Schedler said it is largely hotly contested local races for parish presidents, sheriffs, assessors, legislators and the like that are driving the vote.

He said election officials are still predicting “somewhere between 35 percent and 40 percent (primary) election turnout.”

The heaviest voting has occurred in East Baton Rouge with the number hitting 9,344. The small parish of Plaquemines registered one of the highest percentage voter turnouts at 20 percent of its 15,536 voters.

East Baton Rouge is the home base of Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne. Plaquemines is where Dardenne’s re-election opponent Billy Nungesser is parish president.

Seven percent of Livingston Parish registrants have already voted. Voting was also brisk in Ascension Parish with 5 percent of the votes already in.

St. Tammany had the second highest number of early votes at 6,893 and Tangipahoa, the third highest at 6,138. Behind them are Jefferson with 5,917 and Orleans, 5,663.

Some 15,000 more females cast early votes than males. Democrats topped Republicans and other party voters combined in advance voting — 84,617 Democrats to 58,183 Republicans and 19,847 other party members.

The voter activity in certain parishes “is indicative of population shifts into the Interstate 12 corridor — moving into East Baton Rouge, adding in Ascension, Livingston and the River Parishes (which) is becoming the voting bloc,” Schedler said.

“The New Orleans voting bloc is becoming less and less a factor in statewide politics,” he said.