Why early voting vital for upcoming Louisiana elections (of course, football is one reason) _lowres

Advocate Photo by MARSHA SHULER -- Early voting signs were stacked up at the State Archives building Friday ready to be placed outside for Saturday's start of early voting there. Early voting runs through Oct. 17 with the exception of Sunday.

Hundreds of candidates across Louisiana — from those running for governor on down to candidates for the state Legislature and local offices — are alerting the public through old and new techniques that the weeklong, early-voting period begins Saturday.

The effort is so important because as many as 20 percent of all voters will cast their ballots before Election Day, Oct. 24.

This development has changed the dynamics of the campaign season, prompting candidates to spend money earlier than before and not wait until the final week to make their strongest pitch.

“You want to capture the voters before they go to the polls,” said Kathleen Blanco, who was elected governor in 2003 and served one term. “So you want to make sure that you reach those who are still weighing and measuring their decision when they go to vote early.”

All the campaigns are mindful that potential voters might be otherwise occupied on Election Day watching college football games — LSU is playing its Homecoming game against Western Kentucky — or hunting.

Besides the nine-candidate governor’s race, voters will choose candidates for six other statewide offices, state legislative offices (although 53 of the 105-member House and 21 of the 39-member Senate have already won without opposition), eight races for the K-12 Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and municipal offices throughout the state.

Voters will also decide four constitutional amendments and 72 local ballot measures in 27 parishes, said Meg Casper, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s office.

In all, there are 1,069 different races with 2,095 candidates, she added.

Beginning Saturday, registered voters can vote at designated locations on any day of the week — except Sunday — until next Saturday, Oct. 17, from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“You come out of early voting, and it’s only a week to Election Day,” said Ryan Cross, the campaign manager for Scott Angelle, a Republican member of the Public Service Commission who is one of the four major candidates for governor. The Angelle campaign is alerting likely supporters through phone banks and direct mail that they can vote early.

State Rep. John Bel Edwards, of Amite in Tangipahoa Parish, the lone Democrat, has created a site on the campaign website where voters can type in their address to find where they can vote early.

“We’ll push that on social media,” said Mary-Patricia Wray, the campaign’s spokeswoman. Plus, “at every event until October 17, he’ll be reminding people they can vote early and avoid lines on Election Day.”

The campaign’s door-to-door canvassers are also reminding people they can vote early, Wray said. With their smart phone, canvassers can access the website to provide early-voting locations, which include the parish registrar of voters’ offices and other places.

The campaign of Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne is running a similar operation, said campaign spokeswoman Marsanne Golsby.

“We’ll have a massive digital outreach through the entire early voting period,” she said.

U.S. Sen. David Vitter, the other major gubernatorial candidate, is using phone banks, email and social media to encourage its supporters to vote early, said campaign spokesman Luke Bolar, as well as through a direct appeal by Vitter on the campaign’s website. There, voters can also find where to vote early.

Meanwhile, the state Democratic Party is organizing a rally on Saturday at the Kingdom Connection Church in Houma with party chair, state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson of New Orleans, the party’s attorney general candidate, Geri Broussard Baloney, and its secretary of state candidate, Chris Tyson.

The state Republican Party is leaving the early-voting campaign to its statewide candidates because “they are really well-funded,” said Roger Villere Jr., the party’s chairman. The party is concentrating its early-voting effort “on specific legislative races that we can pick up or which are in slight danger of flipping” to the Democrats.

Until 2005, voters could vote early but only by absentee ballot, and they had to provide a reason why they could not vote on Election Day. Act 220, sponsored by then-state Rep. Wayne Waddell, R-Shreveport, created the current early-voting system without the need for an explanation.

In 2007, 10.68 percent of voters cast early ballots in the governor’s race, according Casper, the Secretary of State spokeswoman. In 2011, the percentage of early voters jumped to 16.23 percent.

Jim Tucker got the hard lesson of the importance of early voting four years ago. The outgoing speaker of the House from Algiers, Tucker went head to head with Tom Schedler to be secretary of state, a position that also oversees business incorporations, the state government archives, a handful of state museums and the state elections system.

In early voting, Schedler received 5,500 more votes than Tucker, which provided nearly the entire margin of victory in a race that Schedler won by only 7,500 votes.

“Any candidate has to pay close attention to early turnout,” said Tucker, who is now the chief executive officer of a nursing home company.

Follow Tyler Bridges on Twitter, @TegBridges. For more coverage of the state capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.