Barbara Evans casts her ballot during early voting Tuesday, October 1, 2019, at the Lafayette Parish Registrar of Voters office in Lafayette, La.

Going into its last day Saturday, early voting for the gubernatorial election is on a pace to set a record turnout.

Early voting opened its sixth day Friday with 253,197 ballots already cast – more than the 234,722 total early votes cast after seven days in the 2015 gubernatorial primary – and one of the largest turnouts in Louisiana history with two more days of balloting to go.

Lines stretched into the halls of the State Archives building in Baton Rouge, one of the early voting locations, where voters arrived steadily all day.

What’s different this time, when compared to 2015, is that Republicans are showing up in greater numbers – perhaps energized by impeachment inquiries of President Donald Trump, said John M. Couvillon, a Baton Rouge pollster who has analyzed early voting for a decade using statistics and interviews.

“Despite Trump’s problems in the rest of the country, he remains very popular in Louisiana,” he said.

Increased GOP interest, coupled with a slight decrease in early voting turnout among African Americans could spell trouble for incumbent Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, who several polls show is a couple points shy of winning reelection outright in the Oct. 12 primary. Edwards is facing five other candidates, including two well-funded Republicans, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, of Alto, and first-time candidate Eddie Rispone, a Baton Rouge businessman.

The seven days of early voting begins Saturday 8:30 a.m. at various locations, including Registrar of Voters offices in each parish, and concludes at 6 p.m.

Polls open again on Oct. 12, next Saturday, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. If no one candidate receives more than 50% of the votes, the top two vote-getters meet in a Nov. 16 runoff.

Ascension, East Feliciana, Jefferson, St. Tammany, West Baton Rouge, West Feliciana, are among the 38 parishes voting for local posts as well as statewide offices.

East Baton Rouge, Livingston, Orleans, Pointe Coupee, St. Landry, St. Martin, and Tangipahoa are among the 21 parishes electing both state and local offices as well as propositions for only some voters in the parish. Iberia and Lafayette have statewide and local races along with parishwide proposition elections.

What should be of some worry to the Edwards’ campaign is the early voter turnout for African Americans, which calculates out to only 24 percent total turnout, pollster Couvillon said. Edwards needs more to win.

Most pollsters assumed a 29 percent black participation when predicting that the governor was only a couple percentage points from winning outright.

Even with a surge of Democrats voting Saturday, as expected, Couvillon doesn’t expect more than 27 percent of the 928,114 registered African Americans to vote. At the same time Republicans are turning out in greater numbers than in 2015 with what will amount to 42 percent of the 918,369 registered Republicans participating, up from the 36 percent in the 2015 primary, he said.

“This could cost Gov. Edwards a couple points in his primary,” Couvillon said. And because the margins are so close, that could very well mean a runoff election in November, which the Republican candidate would have a greater opportunity of winning.

Edwards needs to do well in Baton Rouge and New Orleans to win a second term.

In East Baton Rouge Parish, which as usual leads the state in total numbers, 27,417 early voted through Thursday, which is 34 percent more than the 20,389 total early votes cast in the 2015 early vote and there’s still two more days to go. But one of the limited jurisdiction propositions on EBR ballots is a move by the predominantly Republican southeastern neighborhoods to breakaway and form their own city. The City of St. George incorporation vote is driving up Baton Rouge turnout numbers.

New Orleans increased its early vote by 8.8 percent to 15,032 over the first five days – still more early votes already than in 2015.

Jefferson Parish’s early voting total also are up – 19.7 percent – and already ahead of the total numbers case last time. Edwards won Jefferson Parish in 2015.

Republican strongholds, like St. Tammany Parish, also are turning out to the polls in increased numbers. But Lafayette Parish hasn’t been as enthusiastic with 7,748 early votes compared to a total of 9,449 total early votes in 2015.

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