It was a nail-biter with no teeth, an election-night barnburner with invisible flames.
In a race that nobody watched, New Orleans voters threw a boatload of futile support behind an Orleans Parish judicial candidate who had bowed out of a fight for a judgeship more than five weeks before Election Day.
The final tally Tuesday for the Section A seat at Criminal District Court: incumbent Laurie White, 50.82 percent; challenger Kevin Guillory, 49.18 percent.
Guillory, a prosecutor in District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office, hadn’t done a lick of campaigning before he announced Sept. 26 that he was quitting the race to care for his ailing father, who had suffered a heart attack. He continued to prosecute cases in the courthouse after qualifying to run in August. State campaign reports show he had raised no money before leaving the race.
His withdrawal, however, came too late to remove his name from the ballot. So there it was, right above White’s.
The electorate seemed to like what it saw.
More than 31,000 voters weighed in for Guillory, leaving him just 1,040 votes shy of outpolling the veteran judge, who had raised nearly $20,000 in recent months. Clerk of Criminal Court Arthur Morrell, who oversees elections in the parish, confirmed the odd result on Wednesday.
“That’s weird,” said a stumped Ed Chervenak, a University of New Orleans political scientist. “Somebody who doesn’t even bother to ask for votes is getting nearly half of the votes? That sounds like a real protest vote.”
If there was protest, it came in a stealth campaign; White hasn’t seemed to draw much public animus in her seven years in office. It’s possible that voters simply didn’t recognize either name on the ballot.
White took the bench in 2007, winning a race to fill out the term of Charles Elloie, who retired while under state investigation over a pattern of freeing numerous defendants from jail on reduced bonds.
She faced no opposition in 2008 and has since won praise for developing the state’s largest re-entry court, teaming state prison inmates with mentors serving life sentences and training them.
She also has led a push to install modern technology to replace an antiquated, balkanized case management system in the courthouse at Tulane and Broad.
In the meantime, the blunt, sometimes confrontational judge has lobbed criticism at Cannizzaro as well as at Metropolitan Crime Commission President Rafael Goyeneche over the MCC’s annual “efficiency” scorecards rating the Criminal Court judges against each other.
White herself tends to escape the commission’s censure, hovering near the middle of the rankings in a report that takes aim at the two or three judges with the most bloated case-loads and languishing dockets.
White noted that, like Guillory, she stopped campaigning when he quit the race and that she still won with voters.
Guillory said only, “I wish Judge White the best.”
Had Guillory taken more votes than White, it wouldn’t have mattered, said Meg Casper, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Tom Schedler’s office.
“None of the votes count,” she said, because Guillory was no longer a candidate.
In a somewhat similar situation, Cannizzaro won 72 percent of the vote against defense attorney Lionel “Lon” Burns, who was tossed from the district attorney’s race in late September by the Louisiana Supreme Court over Burns’ failure to file tax returns. Burns took 20,552 votes Tuesday to 53,038 for Cannizzaro.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.