New Orleans voters will elect a new mayor Saturday, capping an increasingly bitter campaign that will make history regardless of who wins, with a woman winning the job for the first time since the city's founding in 1718.
The ballot also includes runoffs for two New Orleans City Council seats and local contests in Jefferson, St. Tammany and St. Bernard parishes, as well as a low-profile statewide race for treasurer. Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. in all parishes.
Arthur Morrell, the Orleans Parish clerk of Criminal District Court, predicted a citywide turnout of between 20 percent and 25 percent. About 32 percent of voters cast ballots in the October primary, slightly less than the turnouts for the 2010 and 2014 mayoral races.
"Because of the publicity, turnout is going to be a little higher than normal for a runoff," Morrell said Friday, referring to the mayoral runoff pitting Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell against former Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet.
In an unexpectedly strong showing, Cantrell took 39 percent of the vote in the Oct. 14 primary, topping Charbonnet's 30 percent. Recent polls have shown Cantrell with a sizable lead; she also has surged ahead of Charbonnet in fundraising, according to recent campaign finance reports.
The election is expected to attract the lowest statewide turnout in three decades, though many parishes will be deciding runoffs for judges, council members or other local offices, and more than 30 parishes have local tax millage propositions on the ballot. Secretary of State Tom Schedler has predicted statewide turnout at between 10 percent and 12 percent, down from the 14 percent who cast ballots in the primary.
All 64 parishes will vote on a new state treasurer, a race that's attracted little attention. New Orleans lawyer Derrick Edwards, a Democrat, and former Covington state Rep. John Schroder, a Republican, are vying to fill the last two years of the term of John Kennedy, who stepped down from the post in January after being elected to the U.S. Senate.
Voter interest has been higher in New Orleans, where the mayoral race has included a steady stream of attacks and even criminal allegations.
Orleans voters also will be choosing two City Council members, deciding runoffs in Districts B and E, as well as a Civil District Court judgeship. The ballot in New Orleans also includes a City Charter amendment providing for the creation of a "savings fund" amounting to 5 percent of the city's annual budget and available for use only in emergencies. And voters in eight of the city's numerous neighborhood security and improvement districts will decide on renewing taxes or fees.
Turnout in Orleans Parish could exceed Morrell's expectations if early and absentee voting is any indication. As of Thursday, nearly 19,000 people already had cast their ballots — a 15 percent increase over the number of early and absentee ballots cast ahead of the October primary.
Orleans Parish typically accounts for between 8 percent and 10 percent of ballots cast in Louisiana. But the city's turnout amounted to 18 percent of the total statewide vote in the Oct. 14 primary.
In other races, voters in St. Tammany Parish will decide a runoff in the Covington area for the 77th District House seat. The ballot there also includes a tax in Lighting District 6 and a $7.8 million bond issue in Recreation District 14.
Jefferson Parish voters, meanwhile, will cast ballots on a parishwide tax for public schools and a fire protection tax in a small district. Voters in St. Bernard Parish will decide on three school tax renewals totaling about 32 mills.