Final early voting numbers show voter interest is tepid, at best, in Saturday’s statewide elections featuring the governor’s race at the top of the ballot, analysts said Sunday.
About 14,000 fewer voters participated in early voting that ended late Saturday than did in the November 2014 congressional elections — the last major comparable election in the state.
When early voting ended, 222,162 of Louisiana’s 2.89 million voters had cast their ballots. That’s 7.6 percent.
Based on those numbers and historical trends, Secretary of State Tom Schedler predicts voter turnout of between 45 and 50 percent, “somewhere in the 47 to 48 percent range.”
But, he said, he fears it could go lower because of a huge undecided vote showing up in political polling — as high as 30 percent in some elections.
“It’s the biggest wildcard,” Schedler said Sunday. Many of those people may stay home and just not vote. “If that happens you will have a huge fall off,” he said.
The drop off in early voting and polling he’s done in legislative and statewide race means “all is not well in turnoutville,” pollster John Couvillon said.
A low voter turnout generally favors Republicans, Couvillon said. Still, he predicts Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards will lead the primary election field with 35 percent of the vote, followed by Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter with about 25 percent. Republicans Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle probably won’t make the cut, Couvillon said.
Early voting numbers also suggest something that should be disturbing to Democrats.
“By all indications, blacks, women and Democrats did not have the same level of motivation and enthusiasm to vote early as did whites and Republicans,” University of New Orleans pollster Edward E. Chervenak wrote in an analysis.
“One of the story lines in the 2015 campaign has been the lack of interest by voters,” Chervenak continued. “The numbers from early voting provide some objective evidence to that assertion as a 10 percent drop is not insignificant. More critically, the drop off was most significant among those voters who are important to the success of a Democratic candidate: African-Americans, women and registered Democrats.”
Before the November 2014 election, a major black get-out-the-vote effort was underway for Democrat U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu. Landrieu made it to the December run-off but lost to Republican Bill Cassidy.
Couvillon said historically African-American and independent voters tend to lag in participation, with the exception of some races, like those involving President Barack Obama and former Gov. Edwin Edwards.
“None of that is in play this year,” Couvillon said. “Independents, by their nature, are not as engaged in the political system.”
Early voting indicates those normal patterns hold true.
A racial breakdown showed that 71 percent of early voters were white, 27 percent black and other race at 2 percent. Sixty-four percent of Louisiana registered voters are white, 31 percent of registered voters are black and 5 percent are another race.
By comparison, last year’s congressional election saw 65 percent white early voting participation to 33 percent black.
Chervenak said in comparative numbers, white early voter turnout was down 1 percent between this year and the 2014 congressional election, but black turnout fell 25 percent. By party, half of the early voters were Democrat; 36 percent, Republican; and 14 percent were no party, or other party registrants.
In 2014, 53 percent of those early voting were Democrats to 34 percent Republican and 13 percent no party, or other party.
Interest is higher among voters in the state’s smaller parishes, where local races are fueling activity. Fifteen percent or more of the voters already cast ballots in those parishes, with Plaquemines Parish leading the way with 25 percent; followed by Red River at 24 percent; Tensas, 23 percent; Caldwell, 21 percent; Richland, 16 percent; East Feliciana, 15.7 percent; and East Carroll, 15.4 percent.
“Politics takes on a more personal aspect in the rural parishes,” Couvillon said. Elections always butt up against hunting season, which also sometimes prompts an early vote, he said.
East Baton Rouge Parish topped the list with the highest number of early votes cast: 19,195. Other parishes leading in early voting were St. Tammany, 14,272; Jefferson, 12,624; Orleans, 12,794; and Lafayette, 9,079. In East Baton Rouge Parish, it was only 6.8 percent of the parish’s voters; in St. Tammany, 8.7 percent; Orleans, 5.2 percent; and Jefferson, 4.8 percent.
“This is a low intensity election cycle this year,” Couvillon said.
“This is really a strange one,” Schedler said. “By this time really it’s a lot clearer.”