With the six-person race for a vacant Baton Rouge City Court seat pared down to two Saturday night, runoff candidates Judy Moore Vendetto and Chris Hester were back on the campaign trail Monday touting their qualifications and trying to woo voters who either cast their ballots for someone else or did not vote at all.
The latter category is a sizable one. Turnout was just 20 percent, meaning a whopping 80 percent of the registered voters in the City Court Division E sub-district did not go to the polls.
Vendetto, 48, led the pack with 28.5 percent of the ballots cast, or 4,129 votes. Hester, 34, finished second with 17 percent, or 2,465 votes. Both are Republicans.
Vendetto, the former longtime law clerk for state District Judge Mike Erwin and sister of East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III, said the paltry 20 percent turnout was actually slightly higher than projected but far from where she would like to see it.
"That's going to be really tough. That's a problem for everybody," she said of persuading voters to either take part in early voting Nov. 4 through Nov. 11 or go to the polls Nov. 18 for the runoff election.
Hester, an East Baton Rouge Parish assistant district attorney and son of former state District Judge Bob Hester, said he will encourage registered voters to perform their important civic duty and vote.
"It's unfortunate that more people did not participate," Chris Hester said.
"Every vote counts," stressed Vendetto, who noted Hester edged out Whitney Higginbotham Greene by a mere 70 votes to qualify for the runoff.
Both Vendetto and Hester said they will work hard for the combined 4,300-plus votes that Greene and Carson Marcantel, both Republicans, collected in the special election, and the total of more than 3,500 votes that Democrats Johnell Matthews and Janice Miller received.
Vendetto said she will continue to tout her 21 years as Erwin's law clerk and the invaluable experience she gained in that role.
"I believe people will be able to look at our qualifications side by side and see the differences between me and Chris," she said.
Hester said he will stick to his central theme that his eight years as a prosecutor will serve him well if elected to the City Court bench.
"Our message is there's no substitute for experience, and real experience matters," he said.
Vendetto said there is much work to do in a short amount of time.
"We're going to stay the course. I've got to keep on pluggin'," she said.
Hester said the weekend marked the start of a clean slate.
"It's a new election," he said. "It started Saturday."
The special election is being held to fill the unexpired term of veteran City Court Judge Suzan Ponder, who retired June 30. Her term expires at the end of 2018.
Division E is a sub-district predominantly in south Baton Rouge within the city limits. It includes the Jefferson Highway and Perkins and Highland road corridors. Part of the sub-district stretches to Choctaw Drive. Sherwood Forest also is included.