Decision 2017 – Conclusion of in person early voting in Louisiana

In person early voting finished yesterday, although mail in/absentee ballots (typically 3-9% of final early vote volume) can still be accepted throughout the upcoming week. 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

Early voting started out with a bang and ended with a whimper: while first day totals were 33% higher than they were for the December 2016 runoff (which had a US Senate race at the top of the ballot), this “spike” in turnout was artificially created by the one time counting of mail in ballots that were turned in between August 1 and September 30 (the first day of early voting).

In fact, ever since the first day of early voting, in person turnout has been substantially (42%) lower than December 2016, and turnout never picked up after that. And the termination of early voting three hours early in four parishes (Orleans, Plaquemines, St Bernard, and St Tammany) thought to be impacted by Hurricane Nate didn’t help much either. In the end, in person early voting was 52% less than it was in December 2016, and absentee/mail-in balloting was 10% less. Overall, in person + mail in/absentee voting was down 46%.

The partisan breakdown of the early/absentee voters was a bit more Democratic than in December (which outside of East Baton Rouge Parish was an electoral “low water mark” for Democrats): 72-26% white/black and 49-40% Democrat/Republican. December’s numbers at the end of early voting were 74-24% white/black and 46-42% Democrat/Republican.

The slightly “bluer” complexion of the early/absentee voters is attributable to one parish: 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 has represented 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) 17%, compared to 10% last November and 9% last December.

Still, “somewhat” makes a difference in the early voting statistics given how overwhelmingly Democratic Orleans Parish is: it voted 81-15% for Hillary Clinton and 82-18% for Foster Campbell last year. And its early voters were 66-30% black (compared to 56-39% black in the December 2016 runoff). In the other 63 parishes, the racial breakdown of the early/absentee voters was 80-18% – lower than the 77-21% racial breakdown of the December 2016 early voters.

Yesterday’s top three early voting parishes were Orleans (15,628), St Tammany (8,089), and East Baton Rouge (7,644 early votes).

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

Early voting data has (from start to finish) foretold a very low October 14 turnout – certainly 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.

Now that early voting has concluded, JMC believes 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 turnout projections:

  • Projected final early/absentee vote: 95-102K (186K in the December 2016 runoff)
  • Projected turnout volume: 306-394K (884K in the December 2016 runoff)
  • Projected turnout percentage: 10-13% (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.