Decision 2016 – (Halftime Report for) Runoff Early Voting in Louisiana

In person has now been underway for several days for the December 10 runoff and will continue until this Saturday (December 3). The runoff ballot contains the US Senate race, two Congressional races, the Mayor-President of East Baton Rouge Parish, and assorted local races/tax propositions. What are we seeing so far, after three days of early voting ?

(Still) Dismal early voting turnout

It’s a given that when you take a Presidential race out of the equation that runoff turnout will drop. Still, runoff early voting has been 71% less than it was after three days of primary early voting, and 44% less than it was for the 2015 statewide runoffs. Putting this in numerical terms means that 66,410 early voted as of last night, compared to 119,381 in the 2015 runoffs and 228,865 for the Presidential race. Furthermore, the last time early voting turnout was this low was during the 2011 statewide elections, which had a 37% voter turnout.

As of yesterday, the top three early voting parishes were East Baton Rouge (8,232 early  votes), St Tammany (5,924), and Orleans (4,834).

In our previous early voting analysis, we thought the timing of early voting at the tail end of the Thanksgiving holidays artificially depressed turnout. Since turnout has been almost exactly the same since then (i.e., almost exactly 22K early voters a day), we can eliminate the Thanksgiving holiday as a root cause – Louisiana voters are just not enthusiastic about the December 10 runoffs.

(Still) Minimal Democratic enthusiasm

In addition to the low turnout, Democrats have generally not been turning out in large numbers either: the racial breakdown of early voters after three days has been fairly consistent, and is 78-19% white/black (for comparison’s sake, three days of primary early voting produced a 71-26% white/black electorate) – the last time the black percentage was this low was during the 2010 Senate race. Furthermore, Republicans (for the first time ever) for three days in a row outvoted Democrats: the partisan breakdown was 44-43% Republican/Democratic (it was 46-39% Democratic/Republican in the primary). Given that there are three regional races which are fairly high wattage (the 3rd CD runoff, 4th CD runoff, and EBR Mayor-President’s race), how has early voting been there ?

3rd Congressional District – 35,021 early voted after three days of primary early voting, and the electorate was 82-16% white/black and 43-42% Republican/Democrat. After three days of runoff early voting, 12,483 early voted, with a 90-8% white/black and a 47.5-39% Republican/Democrat electorate. This additional Republican tilt relative to the primary would likely benefit Clay Higgins more than it would Scott Angelle (both candidates are Republicans).

4th Congressional District –  32,868 early voted after three days of primary early voting, and the electorate was 71-26% white/black and 44-42% Democrat/Republican. After three days of runoff early voting, 9,890 early voted, with a 76-22% white/black and a 47-41% Republican/Democrat electorate. This additional Republican tilt relative to the primary benefits Republican Mike Johnson, who is facing Democrat Marshall Jones.

East Baton Rouge Parish –  20,387 early voted after three days of primary early voting, and the electorate was 63-34% white/black and 48-37% Democrat/Republican. After three days of runoff early voting, 8,232 early voted, with a 62-35% white/black and a 51-37% Republican/Democrat electorate. Unlike the Senate race and Congressional runoffs, Democrats in this one instance have been successful with turning out their vote so far, and in this 52-43% Clinton parish, Democrat Sharon Weston Broome (as opposed to Republican Bodi White) benefits – in the primary, Democratic candidates received 48% of the vote, compared to 44% for the Republican candidates.

Given that early voting has generally not been favorable for the Democrats, it will be interesting to see to what extent they can limit the damage (so to speak) on Saturday, when (in JMC’s experience), Democratic early voting tends to be the heaviest for Saturday elections.

JMC’s projections of early voting volume, overall turnout

Projecting turnout is a constantly moving target throughout early voting week, but since early voting has been in existence in Louisiana for a decade, JMC has benchmarks that can be used to project early voting and/or final turnout.

Projected early/absentee vote: 150-196K (532K in the primary)

Projected turnout volume: 577-1088K (2,050K in the primary)

Projected turnout percentage: 19-36% (68% in the primary)

In Conclusion

Why does early voting matter? When the Legislature essentially established “no fault” early voting a decade ago, you now have a noticeable constituency of people who prefer the convenience of early voting, and this constituency has for three times in a row (the 2015 primary, 2015 runoff, and 2016 Presidential elections) exceeded 20%. A politician would be foolish to ignore this many “front loaded” voters, especially in a closely contested race. Also, too, early voting numbers are the first ones that are typically reported after polls have closed at 8 PM.