Decision 2018 – “Halftime Report” for Early Voting in Louisiana

We are now at the midway point for in person early voting, now that three days’ worth of early voting in the rear view mirror, with four more days (today/Friday, Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday) to go. What has three days of early voting told us?

Turnout remains strong

The first day of in person early voting brought in 69,035 voters (40,030 in person, and 29,005 more accumulated mail in ballots). Even though the mail volume (as expected) dropped off considerably from that 29K figure to about 1100/day since then, daily in person voting has remained relatively strong, with 68,300 voting since the first day, or about 34K/day.

The cumulative total is now an impressive 139,721 (“impressive”, since at the top of the ballot, the Secretary of State special election is the only statewide race, while relatively uncontested Congressional races’ (and local races as well) are “filling in the blanks” – this is the first midterm election since 2006 not to have a US Senate race on the ballot).

To put this 140K figure in proper perspective, last year’s Treasurer’s race (which many in the political community assumed was an analogous election cycle from a turnout perspective) brought in 97K (primary) and 93K (runoff) early/absentee voters for the ENTIRE early voting period. And the 2016 Senate runoff (which JMC has consistently felt from an examination of historical data would be a more reasonable expected level of voter turnout) brought in 66K after three days and 186K overall. In other words, the early voting turnout for the 2016 Senate runoff election will likely surpass the early/absentee voting turnout for the entire 2016 Senate runoff after two more days of early voting (i.e., by Saturday night).

Why has turnout been so high ? JMC believed both then and now that reports of strong early voting across the country (and, to some extent, energized conservatives after the Kavanaugh hearings) have been picked up on the radar of Louisiana voters, and as a result, Louisianians are aware that there is an election here, even though at the Congressional level, there are no seriously contested races from the standpoint of partisan control of the entire Congress.

As of yesterday, the top three early voting parishes were East Baton Rouge (12,988 early votes), St Tammany (11,770), and Orleans (10,246).

(Still) Moderate Democratic Enthusiasm

After the first day of early voting, the racial composition of the early voters was 73-25% white/black and 46-40% Democrat/Republican, which JMC considered relatively mild for blacks/Democrats. Since then, there has been a small uptick in white/Republican voting strength: as of last night, the cumulative composition of the early voters was 73-24% white/black and 45-41% Democrat/Republican. However, in JMC’s experience, Democratic early voting tends to be the heaviest on Saturdays – which this election cycle (with a Tuesday Election Day) will be the third to last day of early voting, so it will be interesting to see to what extent there will be a “Democratic bump” over the weekend.

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, even considering that this predictive model got slightly more complex last year with mail in ballots’ starting to be automatically being mailed out to those 65 years old or over who opted to be on this list.

Given the above, as well as the fact that early voting has remained relatively strong, below are JMC’s “half time” projections:

  • Projected early/absentee vote: 300K
  • Projected turnout volume: 1030K
  • Projected turnout percentage: 35%

In Conclusion

Why does early voting matter? When the Legislature essentially established “no fault” early voting more than a decade ago, you now have a noticeable (and increasing) constituency of people who prefer the convenience of early voting, and this constituency has for six times in a row (the 2015 primary, 2015 runoff, 2016 Presidential elections, December 2016 runoff, October 2017 primary, and November 2017 runoff) exceeded 20%. Politicians and political consultants 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.