Decision 2017 – (“Half time Report” for) Early Voting in Louisiana

In person early voting has now been underway for several days for the October 14 primary and will continue until Saturday, October 7. The special election for Treasurer is at the top of the ballot. Also on the ballot are New Orleans municipal elections and various special elections around the state such as for Public Service Commissioner, district/appeals court judge, and state representative.

Lower turnout, little change in partisan enthusiasm

Last December’s runoff should have had respectable turnout, with a US Senate race at the top of ballot. Also on the ballot was a Congressional race in Acadiana and municipal runoffs in East Baton Rouge Parish. However, the final (29%) statewide turnout was abysmal for a statewide race, and accordingly, “half time” early/absentee voting turnout was similarly low: 89,307 early voted, with a 78-20% white/black and a 44-44% Republican/Democrat partisan breakdown.

While early voting for the October 14 election started off with a higher turnout, those first day numbers were substantially inflated by an accumulation of over a month’s worth of mail in ballots. Now that we are four days into early voting, a clearer picture emerges: overall early voting turnout is 36% lower than it was after four days of early voting for the December 2016 elections (in person early voting is 52% less, while mail in balloting is 45% higher relative to December).

The partisan breakdown of the early voters as of last night remains somewhat more Democratic than December (which outside of East Baton Rouge Parish was an electoral “low water mark” for Democrats): 73-25% white/black and 49-40% Democrat/Republican, although those numbers have barely changed since early voting started several days ago.

This “Democratic spike” 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 (as of last night) 15%, compared to 10% last November and 9% last December.

Still, “somewhat” makes a difference in the early voting statistics if that parish (Orleans) is overwhelmingly Democratic: it voted 81-15% for Hillary Clinton and 82-18% for Foster Campbell last year. In the other 63 parishes, the racial breakdown of the early/absentee voters is 81-17% – almost identical to the 80-17% racial composition after four days of early voting for the December 2016 runoff.

Yesterday’s top three early voting parishes were Orleans (8,661), St Tammany (5,366), and East Baton Rouge (4,691 early votes).

JMC’s projections of early voting volume, October 14 turnout

With additional early voting data available, it increasingly likely that turnout will be very low on October 14: it certainly will be far less than last December’s 29%. How low can it get? While projecting turnout is a constantly moving target throughout early voting week, JMC has established (and continuously refined) benchmarks that can be used to project early voting and/or final turnout.

After four days of early voting, JMC remains of the 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 “half time” projections:

  • Projected early/absentee vote: 100-121K (186K in the December 2016 runoff)
  • Projected turnout volume: 323-466K (884K in the December 2016 runoff)
  • Projected turnout percentage: 11-16% (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.