On Saturday morning, 7th Ward resident Gloria Russ, 81, followed her election-day routine. With her reading glasses hanging from a chain on her neck and a sample ballot in her hand, she strode a block down Frenchmen Street to Engine House No. 27 and cast her ballot in the state’s primary election.
She was confident she’d voted for the right person for governor. “Or he seems like the right person, in my mind,” she said.
On the other side of the 7th Ward, the busy intersection at St. Bernard Avenue and Gentilly and Desaix boulevards was transformed into its usual election-day carnival. Passing drivers honked and gave thumbs-up signs for candidates they supported while volunteers and paid helpers in campaign T-shirts handed out brochures and waved signs.
Yet about a block away, the polling place at St. Leo the Great School was quiet, with only a handful of voters inside.
Karina and Jeremy Bull, 27 and 29, made it in and out of St. Leo in record time, they said.
“There was no line,” Jeremy said, noting that the LSU football game started at 6 p.m. and might cut into evening voting turnout. Others wondered whether the threat of rain might also deter the stream of later voters.
Clerk of Criminal District Court Arthur Morrell said his office’s 11 a.m. estimate found that only 11 percent of the city’s voters had made it to the polls so far. “It’s low,” he said, attributing it to a busy day of activities across the city. By 3:30 p.m., the number had risen to 16 percent, and Morrell said he had seen an uptick in the pace of voting. The polls were to close at 8 p.m.
In general, the day of voting had been steady but uneventful, Morrell said. His assessment was shared by poll monitors like the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which staffed its usual Election Protection hotline (866-OUR-VOTE), and by Trupania Bonner, who was monitoring for the Open Democracy Project at the Crescent City Media Group.
A few voters said they understood why people might stay home, noting that nothing on the ballot inspired them. Civil District Court Judge Clare Jupiter agreed with that general assessment as she walked out of the school. “I’m not particularly excited about any candidate,” she said. Yet Jupiter said she planned to check in with her two children, ages 28 and 30, to be sure they made it to their own precincts today.
The firefighters at Engine No. 27 had thrown open the big doors to let in the day’s pleasant breeze, but E. Peters, 61, scanned the sky’s gray clouds as she emerged from the precinct with her grandchild Jaidyn, 9, who had pressed the “vote” button for her.
Peters said, in what was a common theme among the day’s voters, that she was especially eager to vote for governor. Although she is a regular voter, rain or shine, she had arrived particularly Saturday morning to beat a possible downpour, she said.
Bonner had other worries, especially that late voters might run tight on time, given two issues he’d seen crop up, over and over: Some people didn’t know where to vote, he said, and so he and other volunteers helped them locate polling places. Others had not brought proper state-issued IDs to the polls. Typically, that required trips home to retrieve identification so that they wouldn’t be forced to sign provisional ballots instead of casting typical electronic ballots.
Still, the day had been relatively calm, Bonner said, noting that the scramble to find polling places had been far worse in 2012, when more precincts in Orleans Parish had shifted.
Around noon in Broadmoor, Mike Williams, 28, had just finished cutting the lawn at Blessed Trinity Catholic Church and was placing his equipment into his white pickup. He had three more lawns to go before he could make it to his own precinct in Gretna, he said.
But there was no doubt that he was going to vote. “Because I’m supposed to,” he said, citing his mother, who told him that voting was his right, so he needed to exercise it.
But in the 9th Ward, as cook Jonathan Cromwell, 34, took a cigarette break outside the Mardi Gras Zone grocery store, he said he would not be casting a ballot on Saturday. “I found very little clear information about the candidates on the ballot,” he said. So he planned to sit out the primary and wait until the runoff on Nov. 21, when he likely would be able to cast an informed vote, he said.
From watching her neighbors and reading the newspaper, Gloria Russ is well aware that not everybody participates in elections as regularly as she does. She was particularly exasperated to hear Secretary of State Tom Schedler’s prediction that fewer than half of the state’s voters would participate in Saturday’s election.
“Some people figure it doesn’t make a difference,” Russ said, shaking her head. “But it’s something our forefathers were denied and fought to get. So I’m not going to throw it to the curb.”