Higher turnout in early voting could favor John Bel Edwards, analysts say _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Baton Rouge's Lawrence Guidry, left, and Robbie David, right, cast ballots during early voting Thursday at the State Archives Building in Baton Rouge.

As the early voting period drew to a close, analysts thumbing through the numbers Sunday say the increased interest in the race suggests an advantage for John Bel Edwards, the Democratic candidate for governor in Saturday’s election.

Sixteen percent more registered voters participated in early voting than did in the October primary. Election officials reported 257,021 of Louisiana’s 2.89 million voters went to the polls by the time early voting ended late Saturday. The increase came despite 6,276 more registered voters and the early voting period being cut short by a day because of the Veterans Day holiday.

Edwards, a state representative from Amite, faces Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter, of Metairie, in what has been a yearlong, often contentious, battle for governor.

“If we dare make any assumptions from the early voting numbers, it would be that this trend in the numbers is more favorable to the Democratic candidate, John Bel Edwards,” said Ed Chervenak, director at the University of New Orleans Survey Research Center. “The fact that African-Americans and registered Democrats have boosted their numbers to a greater extent than whites and registered Republicans benefits Edwards.”

Baton Rouge political analyst John Couvillon also noted a Democratic tilt in the early voting.

In calculating the early voting totals with other variables, such as what has happened in past elections, Couvillon estimated about 44 percent of the state’s registered voters should participate in the election that will select the state’s next chief executive. That amount would be about 5 percent higher than the Oct. 24 primary.

Secretary of State Tom Schedler projected turnout in the 40-to-42 percent range. “There will be a little uptick, but nothing dramatic,” he said.

“Only about 11.5 percent of the votes cast were new voters who didn’t vote Oct. 24,” Schedler said Sunday. “When you look at the pure numbers of early voters it would lead you to believe turnout would be higher. But really there’s not that many new voters from the last election.”

Schedler said some of the increase in early voting could be related to Saturday’s start of hunting season as well as Thanksgiving travel plans that would interfere with people voting on election day.

Analysts said the early voting report shows a higher participation among voters registered in the Democratic Party, particularly among African-Americans, as well as heavier voting in larger, more urbanized parishes.

Every day of early voting was stronger among registered Democrats than in the primary election, and Saturday’s last day of early voting was especially strong, Couvillon said.

“The Democrats finished with such a strong kick, they are going to have a pretty aggressive ground game next Saturday,” Couvillon predicted.

The racial composition of the early voters was 68-to-30 percent white-to-black, while in the primary it was 71-to-27 percent, he said. In addition, the partisan makeup was 52-35 Democrat-Republican, compared with 50-36 percent in the primary, he said.

East Baton Rouge Parish topped the state in early voting with 25,033 voters, which approaches 10 percent of its registered voters. St. Tammany Parish followed with 19,609, then Orleans with 19,321, and Jefferson with 16,508 voters. The four parishes provided 27.7 percent of all those registered casting ballots early.

Early voting increased in 35 parishes and decreased in 29 parishes from the primary to the general election, Couvillon said. The parishes with the greatest increase in turnout were largely urban, he said.

In comparing the votes between the primary election, the parishes that increased its early voter turnout went for Edwards in greater numbers than those parishes that saw turnout decreases. “Edwards gets a mild benefit from the individual parishes where the increases in early voting have occurred,” Couvillon said.

While early voting was up statewide, Chervenak said there were variations across regions in the intensity.

The New Orleans metro area had the largest increase — 27 percent — followed by 19 percent more voters in the Florida-River parishes casting ballots early, he said. Acadiana experienced an 11 percent increase, but north Louisiana, only 5 percent.

“While the Metro New Orleans area has seen the largest increase in early voting for the runoff, that region contains both the most Democratic parish in the state (Orleans) as well as the most Republican parish in the state (St. Tammany). The Florida-River Parishes is where Edwards’ home base is located so we can assume that an increase in early voting there is beneficial to his campaign,” Chervenak said. Acadiana appears to be split, he said.

“For northern Louisiana, which is considered to be the most Christian and conservative area of the state, the small increase in early voting for the runoff cannot be good news for the Vitter campaign,” he said.

Couvillon said between the primary and runoff, early voting Caddo increased 63 percent, Orleans 51 percent, Calcasieu 41 percent, and St. Tammany and Bossier, each 37 percent.

Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter @MarshaShulerCNB.