Barry Erwin 110821

Barry Erwin, head of Council for A Better Louisiana

The number of mail-in ballots for Saturday’s election – triple the amount of the last similar contest in 2017 – fueled nearly 50,000 more voters participating early.

But that healthy increase in early voting, which began Oct. 30 and ended Nov. 6, shows voters are more comfortable with mail-ballots, rather than an indicator of a huge turn-out when folks go the polls Saturday, said John Couvillon, a Baton Rouge pollster who studies early voting.

Couvillion says the numbers indicated that about 16% of the state’s 3 million registered voters will decide four Constitutional amendments, two of which would start the ball rolling to sweeping changes in the way Louisiana levies and collects taxes. About 35% of New Orleans voters are expected to participate in the election that will choose most major offices from mayor and sheriff to the entire City Council.

“What you’re seeing is a change in culture regarding mail-in balloting. I would expect a higher turnout, going up maybe a few points. But it won’t be 50% higher as the numbers suggest,” Couvillon said Monday.

Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin calculations are fairly close though he expects no more than 15% of the state’s registered voters and about 35% of New Orleans’ 267,217 registered voters will participate.

Barry Erwin, head of Council for A Better Louisiana, said Monday the low numbers are cause for concern for Amendment 1, which would lead to streamlined collection of sales taxes, and Amendment 2, which would allow legislators to lower income tax rates and do away with the costly Federal Income Tax Deduction and reduction of the franchise taxes companies pay.

“The turnout is going to be very low and the question is going to be decided by a very small group of people in the state, disproportionately by a group of voters in New Orleans,” Erwin told the Baton Rouge Press Club. As head of CABL, a Baton Rouge-based issue research and advocacy group, Erwin has crisscrossed the state championing passage of the amendments.

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“If you don’t know what those four amendments are on the ballot, but you know that two of them deal with taxes … and you try to read the amendment language on the ballot, what are you going to do? You’re going to vote no,” Erwin said.

Erwin and other supporters, such as Stephen Waguespack, head of the Louisiana Association of Business & Industry, are telling Kiwanis luncheons and chamber of commerce breakfasts that the two amendments on the ballot have long been discussed as a way improving the tax structure.

“Really there’s nothing new under the sun here. These are things that we just known that we needed to do for some time and we got the political will in this past year to actually do them,” Erwin said. “It has nothing to do with raising or lowering taxes it really has to do with a structure that will make a difference.”

Opponents counter that the amendments would set in stone a tax system that relies too heavily on sales taxes, which burdens the poor and lower income more than the wealthy, rather than fundamentally improving the system.

The Constitutional amendments are on ballots in all 64 parishes, but 21 parishes will vote on nothing else, including East Feliciana, Iberville, Jefferson Davis, Pointe Coupee, St. James, Tangipahoa, and West Baton Rouge parishes.

New Orleans has a spirited local race to go with the constitutional amendments. Eighteen other parishes will also have local elections, and possibly propositions on the ballots, including Ascension, Calcasieu, East Baton Rouge, Iberia, Lafayette, St. Landry, St. Tammany, and Washington parishes.

Twenty-four parishes will vote on local propositions and Constitutional Amendments, including Acadia, Assumption, Jefferson, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, St. Martin, and West Feliciana.

Polls open at 7 a.m. Saturday and close at 8 p.m. All voters in line at 8 p.m. will be able to vote.

Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.