earlyvoting.103118_HS_013

Stickers await voters on the last day for early voting, Tuesday, October 30, 2018, at the State Archives in Baton Rouge, La.

The race at the top of the Nov. 6 ballot — a race that began in scandal earlier this year — goes to Louisiana voters Tuesday.

Nine candidates — six Republicans, two Democrats and one without party affiliation — are vying to serve the final year of Tom Schedler’s term as secretary of state. He abruptly resigned in May after being accused of sexually harassing an employee.

Whoever ultimately wins — and that likely will be decided in a Dec. 8 runoff between the top two vote-getters if nobody wins a majority in the primary — will have to run again next year for the full four-year term of the state’s third highest ranking official.

Polls open Tuesday at 6 a.m. 

All 3 million registered voters will have the opportunity to cast ballots in the secretary of state’s race and for six amendments to the Louisiana constitution. Voters will also get a shot at deciding whether to allow fantasy sports games for cash prizes in their parishes.


VOTER GUIDES:

Click here for a Baton Rouge-area guide

Click here for a New Orleans-area guide


Locally, many voters are being asked to choose school board members. Some towns, like Central and Broussard, are picking a mayor, a police chief and members of their town’s council. Fifteen seats on district and appellate court benches also are on various ballots around the state.

Two Louisiana Supreme Court justices and a Public Service Commissioner were reelected when they were not opposed.

All six incumbent congressmen are asking for another two-year term in the U.S. House of Representatives. While the Republican majority in the House is in jeopardy across the nation — a battle that has involved President Donald Trump and has ginned up a lot of controversy in the media — Louisiana’s five Republican and one Democratic congressmen are expected to glide to reelection when the votes are tallied Tuesday night after polls close at 8 p.m.

Can't see video below? Click here.

But the national hubbub over control of the Congress and nasty partisan fights, like the one during the U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh, have filtered into Louisiana and energized voters from both parties to go to the polls, said Baton Rouge pollster John Couvillon, who studies voter turnouts over time.

“Just as conservatives were energized by external events (Kavanaugh hearings and reports of robust early voting across the country), local reports of high early voting turnout were played up in the news media, and arguably put the election on the Democrats’ radar as well,” Couvillon wrote in his analysis.

A little more than 10 percent, or 307,237, of Louisiana’s 2.99 million registered voters already have cast ballots. That’s more than ever — except in the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections, which recorded 17 percent early voting turnouts — and certainly surprising given the noncompetitiveness of Louisiana’s congressional contests and the tepid reaction to the secretary of state’s race.

Couvillon said the math suggests that upwards of 35 percent — or more than 1 million of the state’s registered voters — will participate in the election. Campaign strategists were expecting something along of the order of about 400,000 voters determining who would be the next secretary of state.

The campaigns had focused on messages that persuade the older, more conservative voters who participate in every election. The increased turnout won’t change that strategy much because the next tier of voters — those who cast ballots more often than just presidential elections — also tend to be motivated by conservative causes.

“That’s why you’re so much about how conservative they are and how much they like President Trump,” said veteran political strategist Bernie Pinsonat, who has run many a statewide race but has no clients in this one.

The race began because office sex allegations, and some of the candidates pushed hard to find another scandal, such as claims the bidding process under interim Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin to buy 10,000 new voting machines was botched. But those issues never took hold. The final choice breaks a long two lines: adherence to conservative talking points versus pragmatic problem solving.

Rick Edmonds, A.G. Crowe, Heather Cloud and Ardoin talk a lot about voter fraud and undocumented immigrants casting votes illegally.

Julie Stokes, Renee Fontenot Free and Gwen Collins-Greenup say elections and other issues need to be methodically addressed in a nonpartisan way.

Of the nine candidates, only seven have regularly attended the forums where most of this underfunded campaign has played out. They all agree Louisiana voters should prove their identity with a picture ID before being allowed to vote. All oppose allowing voters to register on election day, and all say that extra efforts need to be made to continue protecting voter’s personal data from being hacked.

The main Republican candidates are:

  • Rep. Stokes, of Kenner, is a certified public accountant with a reputation in the House of going after pragmatic solutions even when opposed by party elders.
  • Rep. Edmonds represents southeast Baton Rouge in the Louisiana House, where he voted against every revenue-raising proposal. Edmonds says the secretary of state office should be held by a conservative leader.
  • Crowe is a former state representative and state senator from Pearl River. As a businessman who made his fortune storing and protecting corporate records, Crowe says he offers a unique mesh of government and business experience.
  • Turkey Creek Mayor Cloud was the victim of voter fraud who spent her own money to successfully overturn in court an election where votes were bought. She then lobbied the Legislature to tighten the election fraud procedures.
  • As Schedler’s top assistant for eight years, Ardoin became interim secretary of state in May. He says that only he has the experience to handle elections oversight going into a year with increased federal scrutiny on security and huge gubernatorial election coming in less than a year.

The Democratic candidates are:

  • Assistant Attorney General Free, of Baton Rouge, worked as a top aide to Secretaries of State Fox McKeithen, a Republican, and Al Ater, a Democrat. She oversaw organizing the elections after the 2005 diaspora following hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
  • Gwen Collins-Greenup is a Clinton attorney who is a notary and has worked on elections. She wants to promote higher voter turnouts.

Voters statewide also will decide six constitutional amendments, including one that would make Louisiana the 49th state to abolish split-jury verdicts on felonies.

It is Constitutional Amendment No. 2.

Another measure, Constitutional Amendment No. 1, would ban convicted felons from seeking public office until five years after their sentence is finished.

Constitutional Amendment No. 4 would ban the use of state roads and bridge funds being used on traffic control by State Police.

Another measure — Constitutional Amendment No. 6 — would phase in property tax rates over four years if they rise by more than 50 percent on a primary residence.

Constitutional Amendment No. 5 would allow property owners to put their property in a trust to protect certain exemptions for grandchildren or others.

Constitutional Amendment No. 3 would permit political subdivisions to donate and loan equipment to each other.

The lone ballot measure would make it legal for residents to play online fantasy sports for cash prizes.

That change will take effect only in parishes that endorse the contests.

Each of East Baton Rouge Parish’s nine incumbent school board members are seeking re-election and three will return to the panel unopposed. Four of Baker’s five posts have competitive races, as do four of Zachary’s nine seats.

In Central, all seven school board seats are unopposed, including six with incumbents.

Chris Hester and Johnell Matthews will face each other for a city court seat in south Baton Rouge. The two had squared off last year in a six-person contest for a different judgeship, but both lost. Hester, a deputy prosecutor, made a runoff and Matthews, a lawyer, finished one vote shy of fourth place.

With only two candidates in this year’s race, there will be no runoff. City Court handles minor civil, criminal and traffic cases.

The December ballot in Baton Rouge will feature proposed tax increases for local roads and mental health initiatives.

Lafayette Parish voters on Nov. 6 will decide whether property owners need to pony up more for criminal justice.

There are existing property taxes for the 15th Judicial District courthouse and the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center, but they do not cover all the maintenance and operation needs of those facilities. The parish general fund makes up the shortfalls, and the fund has almost nothing in reserve after years of excessive spending.

On the ballot are two 10-year property tax proposals: 2-mills for the courthouse and 2.94 mills for the jail. The new taxes would generate an estimated $4.6 million and $6.7 million in annual proceeds, respectively.


Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.