Lanny Keller: Boring Louisiana governor’s race could keep some people away from the polls on Oct. 24 _lowres

WDSU news director Jonathan Shelley, left, gives instructions as gubernatorial candidates ready themselves for a debate, sponsored by WDSU, at their studio in New Orleans, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015. From left are Shelley, Rev. Jeremy Odom, Louisiana Public Service Commissioner, Dist. 2. Scott Angelle, state Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Baton Rouge, U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, and attorney Cary Deaton. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

In Australia, you pay a fine if you don’t vote. The citizens often write in Mickey Mouse or other names in protest.

In Louisiana, we are familiar with Mickey Mouse candidates, but we’ve won the all-time turnout award: a precinct in years past that achieved 100 percent turnout, in alphabetical order.

While doubtless officially horrified at the notion of such clumsy vote-rigging, more than a few campaign aides are probably wishing it could be repeated on Oct. 24. Because in a governor’s race that has lacked any real defining moments, the question of who votes is already looming large.

Or small, because the political tea leaves suggest a smaller turnout.

Why? Especially when Gov. Bobby Jindal leaves a budget in disarray and has enraged at various times such active participants in community life as teachers, state employees and university professors. Those alone should deliver some agitprop for the election. Instead, it’s a blah season.

It is a curiosity that the four competitors for the Governor’s Mansion are generally capable and mostly have long political careers and connections, but they are, as yet, not the personalities that have engaged the attention of voters, at least in a positive he’s-my-guy fashion.

The professionals like Pearson Cross, who teaches political science at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, say Donald Trump has taken some of the air out of the election this year. “Sadly, for the state that produced Huey Long and Edwin Edwards, no longer do we find state and local elections compelling,” he wrote in Lafayette’s The Ind. “Rather, they are now offered as an aperitif to be consumed before the main course, the flavor set by the pervading atmosphere of national politics.”

“National politics” is one of the indictments of Jindal uttered by the candidates — especially the Republicans — desperately trying to differentiate themselves from the outgoing governor. But for Cross and others looking at the race, the increasing role of party politics rubs across the grain of Louisiana’s “open primary,” where three GOP candidates vie with one major Democrat for governor.

Party politics in the Legislature, now dominated by Republicans, means fewer legislative seats are contested; term limits lead challengers to defer a race against an incumbent until the seat is open.

While there are a few intense local races — both mayor and sheriff in Lafayette, for example — the majority of House and Senate members have been re-elected without opposition. A rotten record as a group, but individuals coast; they won’t be out there beating the bushes for turnout.

Turnout has been declining, even for governor’s races. That is, in part, because of Jindal. Having lost narrowly in 2003, he was the presumptive favorite in 2007 and faced nominal opponents in 2011. A lack of competitiveness hurts turnout.

Early voting should help turnout, and it may well constitute 20 percent or more of the eventual votes cast, but are those voters who would likely have turned out on Election Day anyway? If we see a big uptick in early votes when that ends Saturday, that doesn’t necessarily mean voters will be motivated on Oct. 24.

An expected runoff for governor might yield more excitement, but perhaps not. David Vitter is a polarizing figure who might inspire turnout, pro and con, but if his opponent is John Bel Edwards, the Democrat, will the latter be seen as a legitimate challenger, given the new influence of party politics cited by Cross?

Hard to say, but it is a certainty that paying for media and for a grassroots turnout effort will be a challenge for Edwards more than Vitter.

The dynamics of the race are utterly different if Jay Dardenne or Scott Angelle makes the runoff. That appears to require more excitement in the past few days than we’ve seen in the last few months.

Lanny Keller is an editorial writer for The Advocate. His email address is lkeller@theadvocate.com.