Decision 2017 – (First Day of) Early Voting in Louisiana

In person early voting started yesterday for the October 14 primary. The special election for Treasurer is at the top of the ballot. This election cycle also contains New Orleans municipal elections and various special elections around the state such as for Public Service Commissioner, district/appeals court judge, and state representative. In person early voting continues until Saturday, October 7.

Higher turnout, but…

The runoff last December had a US Senate race and a Congressional race in Acadiana (as well as municipal runoffs in East Baton Rouge Parish) on the ballot. The 29% statewide turnout was abysmal for a statewide race, and accordingly, first day early voting was dismal: 22,202 early voted, with a 77-19% white/black and a 44-41% Republican/Democrat partisan breakdown.

Early voting turnout as of last night was surprisingly higher: 29,458 early voted (33% more than last December), and the early voters were somewhat more black and Democratic: 73-25% white/black and 51-39% Democrat/Republican.

Some of the difference can be attributed to Orleans Parish/New Orleans. Historically, its elections for Mayor, other parish wide offices, and the New Orleans City Council were held during Mardi Gras season. The timing of those elections was recently changed to the fall (i.e., October 14), and this is the first time New Orleans elections are being held in conjunction with a statewide election cycle. And this statewide cycle just happens to have a statewide race (the special election for Treasurer) on the ballot.

From an examination of first day early voting from 2012-2016, Orleans Parish represents 8-10% of the statewide early vote. Given that New Orleans has a Mayor’s race without an incumbent for the first time since 2010, it is general political “conventional wisdom” that Orleans Parish would have a somewhat disproportionate impact on the statewide vote, although “somewhat” in this case means 14% (it was 10% last November and 9% last December).

There is second (more substantial) factor that impacted the early voting numbers: mail in/absentee ballots are typically sent out once the list of specific candidates on the election ballot is finalized, as you have candidate withdrawals and disqualifications after candidate qualifying. Given that some people vote their mail in ballot when they receive it before in person early voting starts, those mail in ballot numbers “spike” the first day early voting numbers.

To illustrate, in last year’s Presidential race, 26% of the first day balloting consisted of mail in ballots. Last December, that figure was 12%. As of yesterday, 62% of the statewide early vote was accounted for with mail in ballots. In other words, it’s possible that the early vote numbers were artificially inflated by those who turned in their absentee vote “just to get it over with”: while first day mail in balloting was 564% higher than last December, in person early voting was 42% less.

Yesterday’s top three early voting parishes were Orleans (4,177), St Tammany (2,620), and East Baton Rouge (2,456 early votes).

So while on the surface, the early vote numbers appear much higher than they were in December 2016, the substantially higher mail in counts (in the author’s opinion) skew the overall numbers, and it’s presently doubtful that voter turnout will exceed last December’s 29%. As the week goes on, we will have more information to test this initial hypothesis.

Increased (i.e., more “normal”) Democratic enthusiasm

Democratic enthusiasm was higher than it was last December (more likely, it’s at a more “normal” level than it was last December, when Democratic enthusiasm was minimal). This was partially due to Orleans Parish turnout’s being 114% more than it was last December, but the rest of the state showed a somewhat higher Democratic/black early vote as well: in the other 63 parishes, first day early vote turnout last December was 80-17% white/black and 46-39% Republican. As of last night, it was 80-18% white/black and 46-44% Democratic.

It will be interesting to see whether more Democrats early vote throughout the week, although in JMC’s experience, Democratic early voting tends to be the heaviest on Saturdays – the first and last day of early voting 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 established (and continuously refined) benchmarks that can be used to project early voting and/or final turnout.

In this case (particularly considering the “spike” in mail in ballots that artificially inflated the numbers), JMC is of the initial opinion that there will be more “front loading” in the early vote relative to October 14 turnout, and that it’s entirely possible that the previous record (set last November) of 26% of the vote being cast before Election Day may be broken this year with 30+% of the vote being cast early.

With that said, these are JMC’s first day projections:

  • Projected early/absentee vote: 190-250K (186K in the December 2016 runoff)
  • Projected turnout volume: 580-856K (884K in the December 2016 runoff)
  • Projected turnout percentage: 19-29% (29% in the December 2016 runoff)

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 four times in a row (the 2015 primary, 2015 runoff, 2016 Presidential elections, and December 2016 runoff) exceeded 20%. A politician would be foolish to ignore this many “up front” 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.