In person early voting has now concluded, although mail in/absentee ballots (typically 3-5% of early voting volume) will still be accepted throughout next week. 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 did the early voting numbers tell us?
(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 was 67% less than it was after seven days of primary early voting, and 33% less than it was for the 2015 statewide runoffs. Putting this in numerical terms means that 171,033 early voted as of last night, compared to 257,021 in the 2015 runoffs and 515,181 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 (22,072 early votes), Orleans (14,790), and St Tammany (13,817).
(Somewhat less) Democratic enthusiasm
In addition to the low turnout, Democrats were a smaller portion of the early voting electorate than in the primary, although they did enjoy a late surge in the last two days of early voting: the racial composition of early voters was 74-24% white/black, which was fairly close to the primary figures (with the Presidential race on the ballot) of 68-27% white/black. Republicans were also a larger proportion of early voters than in previous election cycles: the partisan composition of early voters was 46-42% Democrat/Republican (it was 45-39% Democratic 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 – 28,130 early voted, and the electorate was 88-10% white/black and 47-40% Republican/Democratic (compared to 78,536 early votes in the primary, with a primary electorate that was 80-17% white/black and 43-40% Republican/Democrat). 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 – 23,256 early voted, and the electorate was 74-24% white/black and 45-43% Republican/Democratic (compared to 70,022 early votes in the primary, with a primary electorate that was 70-27% white/black and 42.5-42% Democrat/Republican). This additional Republican tilt relative to the primary benefits Republican Mike Johnson, who is facing Democrat Marshall Jones.
East Baton Rouge Parish – 22,072 early voted, and the electorate was 57-40% white/black and 53-35% Democrat/Republican (compared to 47,064 early votes in the primary, with a primary electorate that was 59-37% white/black and 49-35% Democrat/Republican). 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, especially since in the primary, Democratic candidates received 48% of the vote, compared to 44% for the Republican candidates.
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 final turnout.
Projected turnout volume: 678-1055K (2,050K in the primary)
Projected turnout percentage: 22-35% (68% in the primary)
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.