Nearly 160,000 Louisiana residents have cast ballots in early voting for the Oct. 22 elections, a 12 percent increase over the last gubernatorial election four years ago.

Kyle Ardoin of the secretary of state’s office says 159,542 early votes were cast by Saturday’s deadline. The number will rise as mailed ballots from military and disabled voters are counted.

Ardoin said college football likely was a key factor in the increased number of early votes. No.1 -ranked LSU hosts Auburn on election day at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge. East Baton Rouge Parish logged the top number of early votes, 9,256.

Ardoin also said efforts to advertise and educate residents about early voting could help explain the increase over the 2007 elections.

“We believe voters are more comfortable with it,” he said Monday.

Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal has nine opponents but is expected to easily win a second term. The lieutenant governor’s race between Republicans Billy Nungesser of Port Sulphur and Jay Dardenne of Baton Rouge is one of the most competitive statewide contests.

Voters also will cast ballots Saturday for other statewide offices, legislative seats and local races.

The roughly 160,000 early votes represent about 6 percent of the 2.8 million total registered voters in Louisiana.

Runoff elections, as needed, will be held Nov. 19. The new terms begin in January.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press