Four years ago, 469,000 Louisiana voters showed up to cast their ballots during the in-person early voting period. This year’s early voting turnout is likely to leave 2016’s record in the dust.
“I think it’s going to be massive,” said John Couvillon, a Baton Rouge political consultant who closely tracks voting statistics.
He’s got good reason to think so. Early voting has been steadily growing in popularity here; in last year’s gubernatorial runoff, 30% of votes were cast during the early voting period in person, and another 3% were mailed in. And that was before the coronavirus pandemic prompted people worried about exposure to seek other options, before different forms of voting became a near-daily topic of political controversy, and before engagement in the presidential contest nationwide soared.
This year, Couvillon estimates that fully half of all votes in Louisiana will be cast before Election Day.
And while Louisiana politicians spent way too much time battling in the Legislature and in court over who can vote absentee, in-person early voting, which begins Friday, is an equally important part of the mix. So we’re glad that this year, voters will have even more opportunities to participate.
In the order in which U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick of Baton Rouge set the same rules for absentee voting in the fall election that Louisiana used over the summer — rather than much more restrictive conditions backed by legislative Republicans — she also mandated three additional days and extended hours for in-person early voting.
This year, voters can show up at designated locations from Oct. 16-27, except Sundays, between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. A novel option for New Orleans voters is the Smoothie King Center, one of the NBA arenas being used as voting sites this year at the urging of the league and its players union. All these developments should help lessen the lines and allow for social distancing.
The period opens as absentee voting, which even under Dick’s order is restricted to people who fit into certain standing categories — being at least 65 years old, for example — or those with relatively narrow coronavirus concerns, is also underway. It too is proving immensely popular, and officials will have their hands full handling the increased volume.
Given the late date, we were disappointed that Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin and Attorney General Jeff Landry decided this week to appeal Dick’s decision. But while we really don’t see the point of the appeal, as it will be heard after the election, we’re glad they’re not seeking last-minute changes that could disrupt the ongoing process.
Election Day itself is now just 2½ weeks away, and a whole lot of people will cast their ballots before then. The only thing left for the officials in charge to do is to make sure that, no matter how Louisianians choose to cast their ballots, it all goes as smoothly as possible.