Twice as many Black voters, 22% more in-person voters and three times more mail-in voters have cast ballots during the first two days of early voting in Louisiana for the Nov. 3 presidential election compared with the first two days of early voting in 2016. Statewide, early voting is up a whopping 58% compared to the first two days in 2016.

The 258,017 votes cast on Friday and Saturday account for nearly 9% of the state’s registered voters, according to the Secretary of State Office’s records. Numbers for Monday won’t be available until later Tuesday.

“We’ve cracked a quarter of million statewide for the first days of early voting, which is record,” said John Couvillon, of Baton Rouge-based JMC Analytics, who has studied voter turnout for years. “The fact that we have much more Black and Democratic voters in the first two days speaks volumes to me.” 

About 210,000 absentee mail ballots also have been requested ahead of the Oct. 30 deadline. A total of 102,431 ballots already have been cast, and accepted, by parish registrars. That’s almost three times the 35,186 votes cast over the same two-day period in 2016 and more than 63,016 for the entire early voting period in 2016.

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People line up to cast their ballot on first day of early voting, Friday, October 16, 2020, at the Louisiana State Archives building on Essen Lane in Baton Rouge, La.

Long lines and increased voter interest have been the news nationwide, with 20% of voters already casting their ballots in many states, including Nevada. Voters in most Louisiana parishes have seen long lines at election stations, but few have experienced the same hours-long waits reported in Atlanta or Houston.

Statewide in 2016, 71% of the turnout in the first two days of early voting were White voters, predominantly Republicans. This time around, the percentage of Black voters has increased 8 percentage points, while White voter turnout dropped to 62% during the first two days.

How did Day 1 of early voting in metro Baton Rouge go? There were hours-long lines.

The increase of Black voters and Democratic voters in early voting probably won’t upset heavy favorites: Republican President Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, Couvillon said. “But it’ll cut into their margins deeply.”

Rather, the increased vote will have a greater impact on local races, such as for the mayor-president’s race in East Baton Rouge Parish, which he predicts will require a runoff on Dec. 5. If the Democratic vote approaches 55%, then the Democratic candidate, whether incumbent Mayor Sharon Weston Broome or state Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, will likely win easily.

Couvillon predicted that the early voting totals will account for about 35% of the ballots cast in this election. That would be up from about 26% in 2016.

Voters at City Hall and the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans waited up to 45 minutes Monday to cast their early ballots.

“I’ve been waiting four years to vote against Trump,” said Corey Gregg, as he emerged from the Smoothie King Center. “It’s his race-baiting, his general hatred and his bullying.”

The wait on Monday was longer at the Registrar of Voters Office in Marrero in Jefferson Parish.

“I’m a Republican and like his ideas,” Mignon Lentz said after voting for Trump. “He’s working for the American people, and he’s not pocketing all the money.”

Long lines to vote early reported at three Lafayette Parish early voting sites

Orleans Parish increased by 53% its two-day total from 15,390 in 2016 to 23,552 in 2020. In Jefferson Parish, totals were up 69% from 9,991 to 16,880 for the first two days.

Sarah Watson, of Lafayette, had been waiting outside the Lafayette Parish Registrar of Voters Office in downtown Lafayette for 10 minutes Friday morning and was about the 40th person in line to vote. She saw where voters in Atlanta waited eight hours to cast early ballots and was concerned the lines would be even longer on Election Day.

“I wanted to make sure I get in and get counted,” Watson said. “It looks a little bit like Disney. I’m willing to wait in line at Disney, so I should be willing to wait in line to vote.”

Lafayette Parish doubled its participation for the first two days of early voting from 5,771 in 2016 to 11,918.

Kahlida Lloyd, who is heading a statewide get out the vote effort for Together Louisiana, said what she’s seeing is more people of color from lower-income precincts showing up in greater numbers at the polls. Together Louisiana has organized group precinct captains who are charged with contacting voters in their neighborhoods and urging them to vote.

The biggest excuse the precinct captains are hearing is that working voters have jobs that won’t allow them to stand in line for hours. “But we’re hearing they will still vote by Nov. 3,” Lloyd said, adding that the groups will hold “go vote” events on Saturday. Early voting ends Oct. 27.

Polling stations close at 7 p.m. during early voting. Anyone in line by then will be allowed to vote, even if it’s two or three hours later, said Tyler Brey, a spokesperson for Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin.

Mark Ballard: Is voter fraud an issue in Louisiana? High volume of mail ballots is bigger concern

Louisiana voters are deciding who will be president, U.S. senator, all six members of the U.S. House of Representatives, two members of the Public Service Commission, two justices on the Louisiana Supreme Court, a number of state appellate court judges, all prosecutors and state district court judges, several local seats, seven state constitutional amendments and a local option on whether to allow sports betting in the parish.

Tyler Bridges and Claire Taylor contributed to this report.

Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.