In our last article, we raised the issue of projected turnout for the October 22 elections by noting that early voting volume, as well as the demographic mixture of the early voters, could paint a turnout portrait before the Secretary of State issues its turnout projections.
Having said that, we also believe that turnout can be indirectly gauged through another metric – voter registration statistics. In Louisiana, a person registering to vote at least 30 days before an election can participate in that election. In practical terms, what this means is that there are always people who wait until the last minute to register to vote, so you therefore see “spikes” in the number of new voters in the month of the voter registration deadline.
For the October 22 elections, the deadline to register to vote passed several weeks ago. This means that you can measure the relative interest in the 2011 primary by examining the number of new registrants during the past month. What did those statistics show?
- Low voter interest – there were 8,580 new registrants during the month of September. Which might seem a lot, except that during September 2007, 13,641 new voters signed up at the last minute for the 2007 statewide elections. And in the November 2008 elections, the presence of Barack Obama on the ballot resulted in 39,397 voters’ signing up to participate in that election;
- Decline in Democratic strength – of the additional registrants during September, only 8% were Democratic, 43% were Republican, and 49% were Independents (in 2007, new registrants during the last month were 42% Independent, 31% Democratic, and 27% Republican);
- Rise in black voter registration – 36% of those who registered to vote in September were black. Typically, last minute voter registrations bring in more new black voters than average (current statewide voter registration is 30% black), but it’s worth noting that 33% of new voters in September 2007 were black.
Voter registration activity is a yardstick that can measure voter interest, which ultimately drives voter turnout. Therefore, we can perform some basic analysis to measure what we think voter turnout will be before a single vote has been cast. As part of our analysis, we measured the number of last minute voter registrations – “last minute” meaning the number of new registrants in the month the books closed. This figure was then compared against the number of those who actually voted. In doing this analysis, we discovered a correlation between the volume of last minute registrants and eventual voter turnout. For example:
- In the 2007 primary, there were 13,641 last minute registrants, and 1,317,870 voted in that election. In other words, 1.04% of those who voted theoretically registered to vote at the last minute;
- In the 2007 runoff (Bobby Jindal was elected in the primary, so voter interest in the runoff plunged), there were 8,384 last minute registrants, and 747,435 voted in that election. The ratio for this election was 1.12%;
If we therefore want to assume that the 8,580 new registrants for the October 2011 elections represents between 1.04% and 1.12% of the October turnout, that would represent, given October 2011 voter registration statistics, a projected turnout of 765,000-829,000 – a statewide turnout of 27-29%, in other words. Once early voting progresses next week, we will use early voting volume to test the accuracy of this projection.