The presence of tolls on the Crescent City Connection Bridge in New Orleans, which had been in place since 1989, has been an emotional issue for Westbankers for some time, since the tolls were only collected for Westbankers commuting to work in New Orleans or other locations on the Eastbank (no tolls were collected for those traveling to the Westbank).
There were two votes on removing the tolls from the bridge. An initial vote in November 2012 vote kept the tolls on the bridge by a narrow 36 vote margin. However, since this vote was on the same ballot as the Presidential election, there were 1151 provisional ballots cast for the Presidential race in the parishes voting on the tolls, and it was successfully argued that a sufficient number of voters who were prevented from voting on the tolls could have changed the result. Thus, the November results were overturned and a new election was scheduled this past Saturday; in that “re-run”, retention of the tolls failed by an unambiguous 77-23% margin.
What makes this election interesting is that the political fault lines were not (like many contested elections in Louisiana) racial, but instead were geographic. John Maginnis once noted that “the parish lines in the Greater New Orleans area are fiction, geographical niceties” and that “they (the Eastbank and the Westbank) are two separate worlds, separate, distinct, and apart” – to those not living in Louisiana, the line of demarcation of the “Eastbank” and “Westbank” is the Mississippi River, and both Orleans and Jefferson Parishes have their “Eastbank” and “Westbank” portions.
So in political terms, what happened with the toll vote was that in the November 2012 election, 51% of both white and black voters supported keeping the tolls on the bridge. In the “Eastbank”, however, 54% of the voters wanted the tolls to stay, while “Westbank” voters were 59% against the tolls. At one extreme of the political spectrum was House District 98 (represented by New Orleans Democrat Neil Abramson), whose affluent constituents voted 61% for the tolls, while House District 84 (represented by Marrero Republican Pat Connick) voted 67% against the tolls.
In the “rerun” election this past Saturday, Eastbank support did plunge from 54 to 29%, and turnout on that side of the Mississippi River plunged 73%. The Westbank was a different story: turnout only dropped 47% relative to November, but the toll support plummeted from 41 to 14%. And even though the toll renewals failed in every state House district in the area, there was still some polarization: Connick’s district this time gave 8% support for keeping the tolls on the bridge, while Abramson’s district still had 40% support for the tolls.
What this toll vote means, in political terms, is that there are many fault lines with regards to Louisiana elections. Some are obvious (race, income, and religion), while others (geography within and without the state’s varied regions) are more subtle except for referendum type votes like this. Nevertheless, anyone running for office in Louisiana would be wise to take these varied fault lines into account when running.